Three open seats based in Kalamazoo, Saginaw and Monroe are shaping up to be the biggest Senate battlegrounds in 2014. That's something both Democrats and Republicans agree on, as both sides are busy recruiting candidates and plotting strategy for next year's election. The trio of seats include the newly drawn open 20th District, which is entirely in Kalamazoo County; the 32nd District, which includes much of the area term-limited Sen. Roger KAHN represented of Saginaw and Genesee counties; and the 17th District in Monroe and Lenawee counties being vacated by Senate Majority Leader Randy RICHARDVILLE (R-Monroe).
Overall, there aren't a lot of areas of disagreement over which seats are in play in the upper chamber. That's part of the advantage (or disadvantage, depending on your perspective), with one party enjoying a supermajority and controlling the redistricting process.
For Republicans, the stated goal is to keep their supermajority of 26, with Richardville arguing they could play in 27 or 28 seats. But after pushing controversial Right to Work (RTW), abortion and tax reform legislation, insiders privately tell MIRS that keeping the majority is enough.
Complicating matters is the feeling that every Republican senator is convinced s/he could face a GOP primary, which means fighting two-front wars for some incumbents. And if they were to get knocked off -- especially by lesser-known Tea Party types -- that could definitely up the odds of Democrats capturing those seats in the general election.
On the other side of the aisle, many Democrats are talking about a two-cycle plan to regain the majority in 2018. But new Michigan Democratic Party (MDP) Chair Lon JOHNSON doesn't want to wait that long and is gung ho about the party's chances, even with a caucus that currently stands at 11. Here's where the races stand with 19 months to go before Election Day.
1. 20th, Open With a 53-percent Democratic base and Sen. Tonya SCHUITMAKER (R-Lawton) looking to run in the 26th District, the Dems are hungering for this one. Rep. Sean McCANN (D-Kalamazoo), who already represents the city of Kalamazoo, is already on the case. He's holding fundraisers, making calls and his name ID is pretty strong. And McCann is looking like he'll have a clear primary. On the GOP side, Rep. Margaret O'BRIEN (R-Portage) is definitely interested. Former Rep. Lorence WENKE, who lost to Schuitmaker in the '10 GOP primary, could give it another go and has never been afraid to open his own wallet. And one-term Rep. Larry DeSHAZOR, who also lost to Schuitmaker, is another possibility. While O'Brien is seen as having a good shot at emerging from a Republican primary, GOP insiders admit a typical right-wing candidate won't have the same crossover appeal in this district in November. And Wenke, who has been the lone voice in the Republican wilderness backing gay rights, is starting to look smarter as polls show Michiganders are increasingly with him.
2. 32nd, Open This 54-percent Dem district is another good Dem pickup opportunity, but it will take the right candidate. So far, there's no shortage of possibilities. GarnetLEWIS, who failed to win a House seat in '10 is off and running, holding fundraisers and advertising on Michigan Liberal. Rep. Stacy Erwin OAKES (D-Saginaw) also wants the job. But well-liked Saginaw County Sheriff William FEDERSPIEL just might be the strongest candidate, and some well-known Dems are working on him. Saginaw County Commission Chair Cheryl HADSELL, best-known as former Gov. Jennifer GRANHOLM's hairdresser, could be another good option, as she's hardworking and well-liked. And even former House Floor Leader Mike HANLEY's name has been bandied about. For Republicans, former Rep. Ken HORN wants it. But there's also businessman Paul MITCHELL, who's committed to spending $250,000 of his own money and has hired pollster and consultant Steve MITCHELL. There's concern Paul Mitchell could force Horn to run right in a primary, which might come back to haunt the winner in the general. And the most interesting rumor out there is that Kahn, who has two years left in the House, could pursue a "swap" with freshman Rep. Tim KELLY (R-Saginaw).
3. 17th, Open This 50-50 seat was always going to be heavily contested, but if former House Majority Floor Leader Kathy ANGERER goes for it, that's a guarantee. It's no secret that there's bad blood between she and Richardville, the current occupant of the seat, over the failure of autism legislation in 2010 Lame Duck. Even though Richardville won't be on the ballot, he'll make sure the GOP plays hard to keep this one. Angerer, who's no longer with AT&T, is taking a strong look at it, Dems tell MIRS. But former Rep. Doug SPADE is also taking a gander, and being from Lenawee could be a real advantage for the Dem nominee to eat into the GOP's stronghold. For Republicans, Rep. Dale ZORN (R-Ida) is interested and considered the strongest choice, with his "salt of the earth" persona and vote against RTW. There's been some chatter about Rep. Nancy JENKINS (R-Clayton), but insiders think she's best staying in the House, where she occupies a potentially vulnerable seat. Republicans are somewhat upbeat about keeping this one, as Richardville won the open seat (albeit with different lines) with 56 percent in 2006, a big Dem year. The GOP knows this unique district and that name ID here is crucial.
4. 34th, Sen. Goeff HANSEN (R-Hart) This 55-percent Democratic seat in Muskegon, Oceana and Newaygo counties is where Republicans are used to doing battle. But they're also used to winning. Hansen has taken some worrisome votes, especially on RTW, which hasn't played well in Muskegon's industrial base. The Dems could have former Rep. Doug BENNETT, who remains popular, but also suffered a brain hemorrhage in 2009. Former Muskegon County Prosecutor Tony TAGUE, who retired last year after a quarter-century on the job, has also been mentioned.
5. 31st, Sen. Mike GREEN (R-Mayville) This 51-percent GOP seat covers all of Bay, Tuscola and Lapeer counties, and Green raised more money than anyone last year to try to keep it. The first problem for Green is that a primary challenge from Rep. Kevin DALEY (R-Lum) appears real. The second could be Dems painting him as extreme in the general, especially with his push for open carry in churches and schools, even after the Sandy Hook shooting. But Republicans think Green has positioned himself well, as he's coped with his wife having a stroke. Dems are certainly hoping to be facing a non-incumbent. They're also looking for the right candidate, which could be Rep. Charlie BRUNNER (D-Bay City). Former Rep. Joe RIVET has been mentioned, too. Former Rep. Jeff MAYES, whom Green beat in '10, isn't apparently interested.
6. 7th, Sen. Pat COLBECK (R-Canton) This 53-percent GOP seat in Wayne County encompassing Livonia, Northville, Canton and Plymouth should stay in Republican hands. But Colbeck's choice to lead the charge on RTW and to be the leading voice for the Tea Party in the Senate could spook moderate voters. That and his burn rate have caused Dems to take a hard look at this race, even though the district was cut to help Colbeck. Before any of that, there are whispers that even the conservative Colbeck could face a primary from a well-known challenger. There are rumors about House Speaker Pro-Tem John WALSH (R-Livonia) going for it. Former Rep. John PASTOR could be another option. For the Democrats, Rep. Dian SLAVENS (R-Canton) looks interested, and Dems say she has proven to be a strong candidate and leader in the House. The name of Dr. Syed TAJ, who lost to now-U.S. Rep. Kerry BENTIVOLIO (R-Milford) in '12, is out there. And it's the worst-kept secret in Lansing that former Rep. John STEWART -- who served as a Republican, ran for the Senate in '10 as an independent and is now a Democrat is laying the groundwork for a possible campaign.
7. 38th, Sen. Tom CASPERSON (R-Escanaba) With a 53-percent Democratic base, this sprawling district covers about three-quarters of the Upper Peninsula's land mass, from Gogebic to Schoolcraft counties. That's a lot of real estate to cover, and a couple different media markets. Luckily for the GOP, Casperson is pretty well-liked, which is important because it's "all about who you know up there," and smartly was a "no" on RTW. Republicans aren't "overly concerned." But Casperson has some work to do on fundraising and he's taken some "interesting" votes, like on his crusade against biodiversity. Dems also don't have a leading candidate at the moment. Two of the best possibilities, former Reps. Steve LINDBERG and Gary McDOWELL, have no interest. Ditto for new Rep. Scott DIANDA (D-Calumet), who's focused on keeping his seat. Former Marquette School Board President Tony RETASKIE, who lost the '12 Dem primary for the 109th House seat, looks interested.
8. 29th, Sen. Dave HILDENBRAND (R-Lowell) So much of what happens in this 51-percent GOP seat in Kent County depends on who's running for U.S. Senate and Congress. If Hildenbrand stays in, Republicans feel good, noting his "exemplary" fundraising last year. But what happens if U.S. Rep. Justin AMASH (R-Cascade Twp.) goes for U.S. Senate, opening up his 3rd District seat? Sources say Hildenbrand could be interested in that, along with many others like term-limited Sen. Mark JANSEN (R-Gaines Twp.) and former Secretary of State Teri Lynn LAND. GOP insiders say that if Hildenbrand goes for Congress, Rep. Lisa Posthumus LYONS is in for the 29th. Could she or other House members wage a primary? No one is ruling anything out. With an open seat, the Dems expect Rep. Brandon DILLON (D-Grand Rapids) to jump in. If not, Trevor THOMAS, who lost in the Dem congressional primary last year, could be an option, though he's sent out a fundraising appeal looking again at Congress. One thing is for sure: Democrats have not approached former Rep. Roy SCHMIDT, who's under a one-person grand jury investigation, about switching back to their side.
9. 10th, Sen. Tory ROCCA (R-Sterling Heights) With a name like Rocca -- and the fact that the Senator has taken a pass on most of the controversial votes -- Republicans feel good about keeping this 50-50 Macomb County seat. And Dems know it's a tough nut to crack, particularly with Rocca's alliance with Democratic Macomb County Executive Mark HACKEL, who's made it clear that any Dem who challenges the Republican has crossed him. But what's got Rocca worried is a primary challenge from former Rep. LeonDROLET, an anti-tax advocate. For the Dems, County Commissioner Paul GIELEGHEM could give it a go.
10. 24th, Sen. Rick JONES (R-Grand Ledge) This 53-percent GOP seat covering Clinton, Shiawassee and Eaton counties is another one that shouldn't be in play. But Jones' controversial comments about a Truscott Rossman CEO Kelly ROSSMAN-McKINNEY and tea party activist Joan FABIANO have made Republicans a bit anxious about this suburban Lansing seat and Dems a bit more eager to fight. It's worth noting that Jones wasn't thrilled about the newly redistricted boundaries, which is understandable considering he lost two of his current three counties and picked up two new ones. Could Jones face a primary? No one's gotten out there, but Tea Party groups aren't necessarily enamored. Former Rep. Deb SHAUGNESSY just got bounced and could make things interesting. Dems feel Eaton County is trending their way with Rep. Teresa ABED (D-Grand Ledge) winning in the 71st House District last year. It's not clear she'd want to make the leap to Senate, though. Debra WIRTH, who's from Clinton County, and was the Dems' standard-bearer against U.S. Rep. Dave CAMP (R-Midland) last time around, could be a good choice. The Dems are definitely looking for a woman.