Over the next two blog posts, Grassroots Midwest will take a look at the prospects of whether or not House Democrats have what it takes to flip the majority in the Michigan House of Representatives.
Part 1 is here:
With a little over a year to go before the next general election, one of the questions vexing activists and insiders remains the same going into every election year – will the majority flip in the state House? So, can the Michigan House Democrats retake the majority after 8 years of Republican control of that chamber?
This far out from the election, it is hard to definitively answer that question because there is so much going on that could have an impact on legislative elections. First, there is the presidential race that usually has some effect down ballot. The x-factor there includes who the Dem nominee will be, and if the Republican nominee will be President Trump or President Pence? (But that is a whole other issue.) Congressional Democrats seem certain to impeach him, but it is doubtful Senate Republicans would vote to remove him from office. The other question is who will impeachment fire up more- Republicans or Democrats? Or could the whole drama turn people off enough to sit on their hands and stay home on election day altogether?
State and local considerations will also weigh heavily. As it stands right now, Republican areas of the state were hit the hardest by Gov. Whitmer’s budget vetoes. Many of these are areas where there isn’t a lot of support for Democrats to begin with, and perhaps now even less. The possibility of further budget brinkmanship during the coming election year also looms large. Additionally, the debate about fixing “the damn roads” still remains unresolved, with Gov. Whitmer’s unpopular proposal for a $.45 gas tax increase currently the only proposal even on the negotiating table.
To retake the House, Democrats need to pick up four additional seats. Of the 24 open seats next year, only two Republican-held seats have a relatively strong chance of flipping: HD 38 (Crawford) and HD 61 (Iden). One thing is certain, legislative staff from both caucuses are going to get to know Novi and Portage very well next year.
HD 38 has a 55% GOP base, and Trump received 52% of the vote in 2016. With Crawford barely winning in 2018, this seat is high on the Democrats target list. And while the GOP base number appears solid, it is anything but as Governor Whitmer carried the district in 2018 with 53% of the vote. That coupled with Trump’s unpopularity across Oakland County points to a strong pickup opportunity for Democrats. 2018 candidate Kelly Breen is once again running, as is Megan McAllister, Chair of the Novi Democratic Club. On the Republican side, registered nurse and faith-based counselor Krista Spencer recently filed to run. She appears to have no prior electoral experience. HD-38 is such a critical district, it is difficult to imagine that a more well known Republican won’t enter the race at some point. As it stands, Breen has to be considered the frontrunner due to her name ID and fundraising prowess. However, the next fundraising reporting period should provide a better glimpse into the fortunes of all three candidates heading into 2020.
The other seat, HD 61, has a 51% GOP base with President Trump receiving 48% in 2016. The entirety of Kalamazoo County has been shifting toward the Democrats for years; maybe not at the same pace as Oakland County, but still quite quickly. Brant Iden has always had tough elections, so it is only a matter of time before the Republicans’ luck runs out when it comes to holding this seat or its post reapportionment successor.
Both parties have well financed candidates in HD 61, so expect this race to be a tough fight. Republicans appear to be coalescing behind Bronwyn Haltom, while Democrats are lining up behind Christine Morse. Morse was elected as a Kalamazoo County Commissioner in 2018, beating incumbent Republican Commissioner (and former state rep & senator) Dale Shugars. Morse is a community activist and retired lawyer. She is married to a dentist and they have three children in Portage schools. Haltom grew up in southwest Michigan, the daughter of a local winery owner. She moved away to work in GOP politics across the country after college, finally landing a job on the Trump 2016 campaign. That led her to a job in the Trump White House Office of Political Affairs, where she met her husband in 2017. They moved back to the Kalamazoo area last year and run a political consulting business. According to their marriage announcements in the New York Times and Politico they were the first pair to meet and get married working in the Trump White House. It will be interesting to see how the parties handle the prospect of a Trump alum candidate in this increasingly blue district.
Join us next week as we continue our look at the House Democrats potential path to majority.