Terri Lynn Land was a good secretary of state, but she isn't up to date on issues

Jul 2, 2014

Okay, here’s today’s political trivia test: What do the following people have in common? 

Bob Griffin, Marvin Esch, Jack Lousma, Jim Dunn, Phil Ruppe, Ronna Romney, Bill Schuette, Rocky Raczkowski, Jack Hoogendyk, Spencer Abraham, Mike Bouchard, and Pete Hoekstra. That’s the complete list of Michigan Republicans nominated to run statewide for the U.S. Senate in the last 40 years. 
They have something else in common, too: Every one lost. How many Republicans won election to the Senate over the same period? Only one: Spencer Abraham, who won in 1994. Six years later, he was a loser, too.
That’s an incredible record of frustration. Twelve out of 13 losses. That’s especially strange, given that the GOP has held the governorship for most of that time, and the Legislature.
If you are 31 or younger, you weren’t even born the last time Democrats controlled the state Senate.

But when it comes to the upper house in Washington, Republicans can’t catch a break. This year, the GOP seemed to have a chance to break their jinx. Their soon-to-be-nominee, Terri Lynn Land, has an impressive record. She has been elected Secretary of State twice. Eight years ago, during what otherwise was a big Democratic year, she was reelected by half a million votes, and ran almost half a million ahead of her party’s candidate for governor.
Currently, she is better known statewide than the man the Democrats are going to run, Oakland and Wayne County Congressman Gary Peters. But Peters is ahead by between five and nine points in the polls, seems to be lengthening his lead, and there are signs this race may be spinning out of control.
Last month, the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, which normally endorses Republicans, endorsed Peters. That may not mean a lot of votes in itself.  
But it sends a coded message to big-money out of state Republican donors, which is: Don’t waste your money here.
It is pretty clear why the Land campaign is in trouble. Their candidate was a good secretary of state and is warm and personable, one on one. But she isn’t up to speed on issues, is extremely uncomfortable being questioned by the press, and doesn’t have a seasoned campaign team who understands the media or the state.
Her problems took on crisis proportions after a disastrous appearance at the Mackinac Conference at the end of May, where Land delivered a wooden performance, clearly did not understand a couple key issues, and then literally ran from the media.
Since then, she has appeared to be hiding. When the U.S. Supreme Court issued its “Hobby Lobby” decision on insurance companies and birth control, Attorney General Bill Schuette immediately praised the ruling.
Gary Peters denounced it. Land’s campaign had nothing to say. More than a day later, a spokesperson released a prepared statement indicating vague support. But the campaign did not respond to questions, and Land was nowhere to be seen.
Candidates whose positions are well known and who are far ahead can sometimes duck questions, but that isn’t the case here.
This campaign is far from over, but it’s pretty clear Terri Lynn Land needs to change the narrative pretty fast, or the list I began with will grow by one name more. Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.