For many years, Michigan has had a strong two-party tradition. During the nineteen-eighties and early nineties, Michigan voters came closer than any other state to mirroring the national presidential results. But we don’t just go with the winners.
We’ve also had one of the oldest and strongest traditions of ticket-splitting in the nation. Back in 1964, Democrat Lyndon Johnson carried the state by more than a million votes, something never seen before or since. But seven hundred thousand of those voters crossed over to give Republican George Romney a landslide as well.
Today we do have a slight tendency to vote a little more Democratic for President, while at the same time, our voters seem to slightly prefer Republican governors. But there is one area where the parties haven’t been equal, where the Republican record has been one of miserable, embarrassing failure.
And that would be the U.S. Senate. Michigan has had eleven races for the Senate since Richard Nixon left office. Democrats have won ten of the eleven times. The only Republican victory occurred in 1994, when Spencer Abraham won an open seat.
That, by the way, was the year when Republicans took back both Congress and won every open U.S. Senate seat in the country. Six years later, Abraham was tossed out by Debbie Stabenow, and the GOP has been shut out since.
Now, they are gearing up to try again. Debbie Stabenow will be running for a third term next year, and the Republicans say they are determined to unseat her. They say that in twelve years in office, she has next to no legislative accomplishments, and has not been an effective advocate for the state of Michigan. Democrats dispute that.
But what nobody can dispute is that you can’t beat someone with no one, and right now, the Republicans don’t seem to have a top tier candidate capable of giving Senator Stabenow a run for her money. Most thought their best hope was Pete Hoekstra, the former congressman who lost the gubernatorial nomination to Rick Snyder last year. But Hoekstra decided last week he wasn’t running. There are a couple declared GOP candidates, a former judge named Randy Hekman and a businessman named Peter Konetchy. A former auto executive named Tim Leuliette is thinking of running, as is Saul Anuzis, the former state party chairman. Unfortunately, they all have next to no name recognition. Nor are any of them likely to be able to raise the at least fifteen million dollars it would take to beat an incumbent senator.
Right now, it looks like the Republicans’ only real hope to recapture this seat rests with one person: Former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land. She does have statewide recognition. She was popular, well-liked, seen as competent and reasonably moderate.
Her family also has some financial resources. That doesn’t mean she would be a slam-dunk to beat Senator Stabenow.
But she would be a serious candidate. Currently Land, who had wanted to become lieutenant governor last year, is trying to make up her mind whether to run or not. If she does, we could have the most exciting senate race in years. If not, well, the GOP can always go back to hoping that some day, Carl Levin will retire.