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What Michigan Dems need to control the House, and how gerrymandering plays a role

Oct 17, 2016

Michigan's House Democrats are looking to take control of the chamber this November, but that won't be easy.

The Democrats need to win at least 56 of 110 seats to have a House majority. They currently hold 46.

The Associated Press reports that the Democrats do have some advantages that should spur optimism going into the November election. 

More from the Associated Press:

Democrats' advantages include higher voter turnout for the presidential election and the departure of dozens of Republicans who cannot run again under term limits. Democrats have gained House seats in every presidential contest since 2004.

Michigan Radio's Rick Pluta, who has been covering state government since the late 1980's, says gerrymandering of state district lines should be looked at when determining who controls the House. 

"In Ottawa County, you can't draw a competitive seat, the area is just so Republican," Pluta says. "In Detroit, you can't draw a competitive state House seat. So the question is, where are they competitive and what makes them competitive?" 

Pluta says majority-minority districts, which are districts that are mostly people of color rather than white, can help Republicans keep control of the House.

One of the things that the Republicans will do is try to make those majority-minority districts as minority as possible, so that you've got like 60% Democratic majority so that they can create more seats surrounding them that are 52 or 53% Republican majority.

Zach Gorchow writes for Gongwer, a news outlet specializing in Michigan politics and government.

He says the state's current district lines, drawn by the Republican-led legislature in 2011, doesn't play as big a role as some like to think.

"If you look at the districts that were most competitive, the Democrats by in large had good districts to run in and lost," Gorchow says. 

He adds:

In 2001, the Republicans drew the maps, and in 2006, the Democrats took control of the state House. And in 2008, they actually had a 67-43 majority, a huge majority, even under a Republican plan.

Gorchow says Democrats could draw maps to their advantage as well, but it has been very rare for them to have unified control in Michigan during reapportionment periods. 

The Republicans are losing 26 incumbents due to term limits.

More from the Associated Press:

Democrats say Republicans' brand is terrible because of presidential nominee Donald Trump and Gov. Rick Snyder's low approval rating. Republicans counter that voters are happy with job creation and other gains.