Michigan Senate seat in play for 2014?

We’ve already taken an early look this Fall at some of the Senate seats which are up for grabs next year and how the GOP may be able to capitalize on these opportunities and take the six slots they need for majority control of the upper chamber. But one spot which hasn’t really been high on my list is the seat in Michigan. A number of readers have commented on this, and they may have been ahead of the curve. When Carl Levin announced that he wasn’t going to be running for another term I didn’t get particularly excited. The Democrats seemed to have a built in advantage, particularly with strong union support and aggressive fundraising. But now Stu Rothenberg is taking a close look at this race and finding that the Democrats might not be as “safe” as most observers once predicted.

Republicans don’t need to win Michigan to get the majority in the Senate, but the Wolverine State could become a serious takeover target later next year.

After more than three decades, Democratic Sen. Carl Levin announced that he would not seek re-election. Instead of competitive primaries filled with ambitious candidates, it looks like both parties have settled on their nominees for next fall. At this point, the general election looks like it will be between Democratic Rep. Gary Peters and Republican former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land.

Early public polling shows a competitive race with both candidates lacking statewide name identification. A September EPIC-MRA poll showed Peters ahead, 38 percent to 37 percent. A mid-October automated survey from the Democratic Public Policy Polling firm had the congressman with a larger advantage, 43 percent to 36 percent. And a recent automated survey by the Revsix, a Republican firm, and Michigan Blueprint Strategies, a Democratic firm, for Inside Michigan Politics also had Peters leading a general election ballot test, 43 percent to 38 percent.

The race has now been moved to “Democrat Favored” instead of safe, but that further shows that this is far from a sure pick-up. The built-in advantages for the Democrats I mentioned above haven’t gone away, even if the electorate is in a mood to be a bit more open minded. Also, it’s not a given that we already know the final two candidates. But if things stay on their current track, the possibilities are getting more interesting. Republican Terri Lynn Land just posted another $2M fundraising quarter well in advance of the race, and the problems facing Detroit have taken some of the shine off the union apple.

If Stu is right, the voters in Michigan are hardly settled on a final choice and still have a lot to learn about both candidates before these numbers start to solidify at all. If Land (assuming she is the nominee) can get out early and define both herself and the Democrat, rather than getting bogged down in a self-destructive primary, she could develop some momentum and set the GOP up for a steal here. We’ll want to take Michigan off the shelf – along with North Carolina – and put it on the watch list for next summer.

Finally, we reached out to the NRSC for a comment on this. The following is from strategist Brad Dayspring:

There is a lot for conservatives to be excited about in Michigan with Terri Lynn Land’s impressive fundraising performance , strong statewide favorably, and a united party rallying behind her. The opposite is true for Detroit Congressman Gary Peters who repeatedly lied about ObamaCare in 2009 and 2010 to pass the unpopular law and now has serious credibility problems with Michigan voters. Further, Peters has a history of inflating his resume for political gain, of hypercritically criticizing Wall Street while profiting heavily from it, and of repeatedly breaking his promises to voters. It’s also worth noting that President Obama is at all time lows in Michigan in deep contrast to the state Republican party and Governor Snyder who are both very strong. Democrats have their work cut out for them and have an uphill climb in state that they started the year believing they had in the bag.

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