Politics
2:53 pm
Fri August 10, 2012

Can Democrats win back the state House in November?

We are now three days out from Tuesday’s Primary where there was a lot of attention paid to the state’s Republican Senate primary and various U.S. Congressional races. So, we thought it was time to give state lawmakers and their races a little love.

Primarily Speaking

In just about two thirds of these local races the primary pretty much determined who the winner will be in November. Because of the way the lines are drawn, most districts are decidedly Republican or Democratic. So, the primary settles the question three months before the general election.

That leaves just about a third of the races left; races that are really fought between a Republican and a Democrat… where incumbency, the strength of the national and statewide tickets and fights over issues and policy matter.

Can Democrats Win Back the State House?

Control of the state House is in play this year. In 2010, largely on the strength of a surge nationwide for Republicans, the GOP took a commanding majority – 64 to 46 – in the state House.  Out of 110 seats, Democrats need to turn at least 10 of them to win back control. That’s a lot. But we’ve seen dramatic swings in recent House elections. So, Democrats see it as tough, but do-able.

In the Thumb, Democrats lost the Republican primary. That’s because incumbent Republican Kurt Damrow ran into some problems and he had become such a liability that his local Republican Party kicked him out. Former Democratic Representative Terry Brown won’t have as easy a time against Dan Grimshaw.

In Grand Rapids, Democrats won the Republican primary when the badly damaged Roy Schmidt barely won re-nomination over a write-in opponent, but only on the strength of absentee ballots cast before the scandal over how he switched parties and tried to rig his own re-election by recruiting a fake Democrat broke into the news. Political-newcomer Winnie Brinks is the Democrat on the ballot. And, Schmidt’s name is toxic. Candidates typically love high name identification, but not this kind.

The Bolger Effect

One of the really interesting things we’ll be watching in this election cycle is how much of a campaign issue will be made out of the Schmidt-scandal in regards to House Speaker Jase Bolger. Democrats would love to make a statewide issue out of the Republican leadership. There’s the “Vagina-gate” controversy, among other
things, and now this. Speaker Bolger was one of the architects of the Schmidt ballot scheme. He’s probably safe in his 56 percent Republican seat, but his numbers did suffer in this week's primary compared to two years ago, and Democrats now expect to spend some money on that race.  

When asked, Bolger says he isn’t a political liability. But Democrats will certainly still try to hang the Schmidt scandal on every GOP incumbent. They’ll ask – or try to get voters to ask – if they support Bolger as speaker or if think he should be replaced. Will that turn a race? Doubtful. But it can be used as a pile-on – a symbol or an example of how Republicans have used their dominance in Lansing, and then turn the conversation to their top wedge issues of the pension tax and cuts to schools.

GOP: Not So Fast Dems

It’s a safe bet, however, that Republicans won’t be willing to take any of this lying down. They’ve already taken aim at Democratic Representative Kate Segal, the top Democrat in the House who is seeking reelection. She has aspirations to be speaker if the Democrats can take control. And, interestingly enough, Bolger and Segal’s districts are right next door to each other and they have a rivalry that dates back to when they were both on the Calhoun County Commission.