LANSING, Mich. (MIRS) – Nobody can deny that what happened overnight was a huge upset. Michigan Democrats won big across the state, capturing the House and Senate, the top three administrative offices and all 8 education posts.
But, if they’d spread the wealth or handed out more cash, they might have won additional seats in Congress and/or the Senate. On the other hand, would doing that have put other victories at risk?
In hindsight, it’s easy to point fingers at what could, or perhaps, should have been done differently in several races. And perhaps lessons learned from this election will play a part in how national and state Democratic parties open their purse strings in the future.
One such race was in the 10th Congressional District where “third time’s the charm” John James came out on top of his Democratic opponent by just 1,601 votes, with 99% of the district reporting.
The spread, the buzz, the polls – all seemed to indicate that James would win this one by a landslide, but it didn’t happen.
“I’ll certainly admit that I expected James to win fairly easily,” said Adrian HEMOND of Grassroots Midwest. “He didn’t.”
From the outset, James’ opponent, Carl Marlinga, was an unlikely candidate for National Dems to throw their money behind.
“What the National Democrats wanted at the beginning of this cycle was for Andy Levin to move into this (district),” Hemond said.
However, Levin opted to put himself up against U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens (D) for U.S. House District 11 – and lost.
“When they didn’t get that (Levin running in MI-10), this was one of the races that didn’t even make the list as potential opportunities where they could play because they were more concerned about defending their Democratic incumbents nationally,” Hemond said.
So, Marlinga got bupkis in advertising support from the national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).
Meanwhile, James’ own campaign spent upwards of $2.6 million in advertising, which was bolstered by a $1.6 million shot in the arm by the U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy-endorsed Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF).
After he called James to concede, Marlinga told the Free Press that a little extra spending cash would have bridged that 1,600 vote gap easily.
“I had a winnable race, I raised a million dollars and I put a goodly amount on TV,” Marlinga said. “A little bit of help from the DCCC would have put me over the top.”
Hemond agreed that the added support might have put Marlinga in the winner’s seat.
“In the Macomb County race, the National Democrats spent nothing, right?” Hemond said. “And so, you know, probably a half million dollars is enough to make up those 1,600 votes. But again, they didn’t expect it to be that close.”
A second race where Dem expectations might not have matched the reality was in the 9th Senate District where former Rep. Michael WEBBER (R-Rochester Hills) eked out a win over current Rep. Padma KUPPA (D-Troy) by a mere 795 votes.
Was this another preventable loss?
“Padma Kuppa was a little bit different where she was getting financial resources from Senate Democrats and the state party, and she just didn’t make the cut towards the end,” Hemond said.
Kuppa was on the original target list, he said. This meant that Michigan Dems decided from the outset to invest in Kuppa and help her take the seat.
The newly drawn SD-9 was viewed as an opportunity for Kuppa to ‘flip’ it, as she did four years ago in her current district, HD-41, where she took the seat from an incumbent Republican with 440 votes.
But, as time progressed, for some reason she slipped further down the list, and according to sources, moved completely off it when her budget was allegedly cut about a month ago.
“As the cycle went on, they had to make strategic decisions about where to put their resources,” Hemond said.
And that’s when Dems drilled down to the “best chances to close the deal and get over the finish line,” to flip the House and Senate, he said. Kuppa didn’t make the cut.
“(Dems) had a very good fundraising year…but they didn’t have enough to go the distance in all of the potentially winnable races and maximize their chance of getting a legislative majority,” Hemond said.
He also pointed out that if money had been put into the Kuppa or Marlinga races, it would have had to come from another contest.
Somewhere like Macomb, Wayne and St. Clair counties, where unofficial results for SD-12 have Rep. Kevin Hertel (D-St. Clair Shores) narrowly defeating Rep. Pamela HORNBERGER (R-Chesterfield Twp.) by 313 votes.
Or in Oakland County, where Democratic rising star Veronica Klinefelt defeated current Sen. Michael D. MacDonald (R-Sterling Heights) in SD-11 by 5,715 votes.
The takeaway from this might be that hedging your bets works at times, and at other times, it does not. This time around what the Dems did worked for the most part.
“They (Dems) made some pretty good bets, overall,” Hemond concluded.
Moving forward, “There are other seats…on the state legislatives maps in the House and Senate that the Democrats absolutely will take a look at when there’s not a Republican incumbent in the seat,” he added.