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Race Ratings: GOP Shores Up Freshmen in Competitive Michigan

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Gary Peters (above) will seek re-election in the 14th district after redistricting put him in the same district as Rep. Sander Levin.

Michigan Republicans held the pen during their map redraw that found one Member of the Congressional delegation on the chopping block because the state is losing a seat because of population decline.

As anticipated, the redistricting ax fell on Democratic Rep. Gary Peters’ 9th district, and he’ll instead seek re-election in the 14th district.

The Wolverine State’s GOP caused some chaos for Democrats but didn’t get greedy in its redraw — mostly because it couldn’t. Republicans shored up the party’s three freshman Members.

But most of the state is competitive, so Republicans could only finagle so much creative line-drawing for their nine Members. Even GOP Rep. Thaddeus McCotter’s 11th district — the seat that benefited the most from this round of redistricting — could still be competitive in a bad year for Republicans.

Republicans did the most damage around Detroit. They dismantled Peters’ suburban district, spreading it out into several nearby districts and forcing Peters to run against a colleague. The GOP exchanged territory between the heavily Democratic 13th and 14th districts, forcing two Democrats to run in districts where they do not currently live.

Republicans won’t pick up any seats in 2012 from redistricting, but they’ll probably manage to hold on to the seats they have.

1st district
Incumbent: Dan Benishek (R)
1st term (52 percent)
Rating: Leans Republican

Republicans tried to shore up the freshman’s district, knowing Democrats would target the seat that former Rep. Bart Stupak (D) easily held for the 18 years.

But Republicans managed to make this sprawling, coastal district only slightly safer for Benishek. The GOP drew minor geographical changes to the district by shifting it to the west. The district picked up Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska, Leelanau and Manistee counties.

In other words, there will be more 1st district football fans rooting for the Green Bay Packers than for the Detroit Lions by 2013. That’s significant because the biggest change to this district has nothing to do with geography — but rather with television markets.

The current 1st spreads across six small media markets. That makes it a very expensive district for campaigns to run in — especially for challengers with minimal name identification. But the new 1st district no longer includes one of its largest media markets, the city of Flint, slightly lowering the barrier to entry.

For Democrats to have a shot, their candidate would preferably be a Packers fan from the western part of the district with financial means. The 2010 Democratic candidate, former state Rep. Gary McDowell, is trying again for the seat he lost to Benishek by 11 points in November.

2nd district
Incumbent: Bill Huizenga (R)
1st term (65 percent)
Rating: Safe Republican

Republicans barely touched the partisan makeup of this district for the new map — and for good reason. This western Michigan district reliably votes for Republicans — so if a district ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

If anything, Huizenga might want to watch out for a potential primary challenge. State Rep. Dave Agema (R) told Roll Call on Sept. 9 that he’s looking at challenging Huizenga and will be polling the race in the upcoming weeks.

But it’s still going to be difficult for either a Democrat or a Republican to topple Huizenga. The Congressman is well-known in this district from his tenure in the state Senate and for working for his predecessor, former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R).

Huizenga gets a boost with Hoekstra on the statewide ticket. Hoekstra represented the 2nd district for nine terms and, after leaving Congress last year for a failed gubernatorial bid, is challenging Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D).

3rd district
Incumbent: Justin Amash (R)
1st term (60 percent)
Rating: Likely Republican

If redistricting is any indication, Amash doesn’t have many friends left in Lansing. Republicans made the freshman Member and former state Representative’s district more competitive in their redraw. He was the only Republican in the Michigan delegation who received that treatment. 

Republicans gripe that Amash hasn’t been a team player on Capitol Hill and cite his frequent “present” votes as proof. In his first several months in Congress, Amash has presented himself as more libertarian than Republican.

Fortunately for Amash, he’s got several things going in his favor. The freshman is still tight with one of Michigan’s most powerful GOP rainmakers, the DeVos family. The Club for Growth’s members will likely support him again, and not a single Democratic candidate has blipped on the radar in the 3rd.

4th district
Incumbent: Dave Camp (R)
11th term (66 percent)
Rating: Likely Republican

GOP mapmakers made Camp’s district more compact, shoring up Republicans somewhat, just enough to make Camp sleep a little more soundly.

Camp has never won this seat with less than 60 percent of the vote. As chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, fundraising for his re-election will be easy. His role on the super committee can only amplify his financial intake.

Also, Michigan Democrats have a notoriously shallow bench in the 4th. Party faithful were hard-pressed to name any potential 4th district candidates — let alone a good one.

5th district
Open Seat
Rating: Likely Democratic

Rep. Dale Kildee’s retirement makes this an open seat in 2012, and Democrats will most likely keep it in their column. Republicans barely changed the partisanship of this gritty, blue-collar district in eastern Michigan.

The new 5th district lost parts of Tuscola County to the 10th, but it picks up northern Arenac, Bay and Iosco counties from the 1st district. The cities of Flint and Saginaw remain the population centers.

Four local Democrats are seriously considering a bid: former Rep. Jim Barcia, state Sen. John Gleason, Michigan Education Association organizer David Crim and Kildee’s nephew, former Genesee County Treasurer Dan Kildee.

Barcia represented at least half of the new 5th during the 1990s, but that rural, northern territory is also the least Democrat-friendly terrain in the district. Crim is well-known in the district because his father is the former Speaker of the state House, but his personal political skills remain untested.

Gleason’s state Senate district includes Flint — the district’s Democratic base — and he’s also well-known. But Gleason must compete for votes in the Flint area with Dan Kildee, who’s also going to get a boost because of his name.

The Democratic victor will most likely also be the district’s next Congressman.

6th district
Incumbent: Fred Upton (R)
13th term (62 percent)
Rating: Likely Republican

Upton was one of his delegation’s leading voices on the new map, and he was a team player by marginally redrawing his own southwest Michigan district to make it slightly less competitive.

The new 6th district lost parts of Calhoun County, one of the more competitive counties in central Michigan.

There is one announced Democratic candidate running against Upton: Iraq and Afghanistan wars veteran John Waltz. In 2010, Waltz lost a House bid in Kentucky against Rep. Geoff Davis (R) by 38 points — not exactly a promising sign for a candidate, especially given that Upton has won with at least 58 percent of the vote since he was elected in 1986. Waltz moved back to his home state this summer.

Upton’s influence is increasing on Capitol Hill with his dual roles as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee and as a member of the super committee.

7th district
Incumbent: Tim Walberg (R)
2nd term (50 percent)
Rating: Leans Republican

Republicans did what they could to make this district safer. Walberg has had a rocky run in Congress — he unsuccessfully ran in the primary for this seat in 2004 before defeating fellow Republican former Rep. Joe Schwarz in the primary in 2006. Walberg lost his seat to Rep. Mark Schauer in 2008 but defeated the Democrat to win a second term in 2010.

The new 7th district shed competitive Calhoun County. Not coincidentally, that county is home to both Schauer and Schwarz.

Republicans say Walberg has learned from his eight years of competitive campaigns. They point out that he’s no longer dependent on the conservative, cash-flush Club for Growth.

But Democrats argue this is still a competitive district, especially if they can field a candidate from the newly added Monroe County. Longtime Rep. John Dingell (D) boasts deep ties to Monroe County after representing it for three decades. There’s a path to victory there for a Democrat if Dingell or another top party member can find someone to run.

8th district
Incumbent: Mike Rogers (R)
6th term (64 percent)
Rating: Likely Republican

The GOP did not change much about this slightly Republican district — probably because it has a lot of faith in Rogers. The chairman of the Intelligence Committee knows how to run a tough race, even though he has not had one since his first term. Rogers won by a slim 100 votes in 2000, but he has glided by with at least 55 percent in subsequent elections.

9th district
Incumbent: Sander Levin (D)
15th term (61 percent)
Rating: Likely Democratic

Republican mapmakers cannibalized this district, dividing the previous 9th district into four different House districts around Detroit. But about 75 percent of Levin’s current district went into the new 9th district, making it an obvious choice for the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee to seek re-election.

Rep. Gary Peters (D) held on to the current 9th district for the past two terms and lives in the redrawn 9th district. Peters, a strong campaigner, is one of only a few Democrats to survive re-election in a competitive district in the Rust Belt in 2010.

So Levin dodged a bullet when Peters announced in September that he would not seek re-election in this district. Many Democrats assumed the two would face off in a Member-vs.-Member race.

As a result, Levin’s prospects for a 16th term look good. The district includes strong Democratic territory. But without a bruising Democratic primary to damage Levin, Republicans will likely leave him alone.

10th district
Incumbent: Candice Miller (R)
5th term (72 percent)
Rating: Likely Republican

Miller was one of the lead mapmakers this cycle and didn’t change much about her district with good reason.

She has never won re-election with less than 63 percent of the vote in this conservative, eastern Michigan district. But there are also geographical limitations: Miller’s district borders on Lake Huron, which means the only way for the district to increase is to move east.

Miller kept 95 percent of her current district under the new map. She can hold on to this district as long as she wants it.

11th district
Incumbent: Thaddeus McCotter (R)
5th term (59 percent)
Rating: Likely Republican

The mapmakers helped McCotter’s district more than any other Republican. His current district is competitive, and President Barack Obama won with 54 percent in 2008. But McCotter has won re-election handily since his first campaign.

The 11th district kept about two-thirds of its current territory. The district also picked up 230,000 people from Oakland County in the current 9th. But these were mostly independent and right-leaning, suburban voters that will help McCotter’s cause.

Despite his enviable new district, sources said McCotter was not pleased with the final result.

More importantly, McCotter has not committed to running for re-election in the 11th during his quixotic presidential campaign. McCotter declined to say whether he would seek another term in an interview with Roll Call a few months ago.

While McCotter hits the presidential campaign trail, several local Republicans have expressed interest in running for his seat. State Sen. Mike Kowall formally announced a bid, and former state Rep. Rocky Raczkowski is also considering running.

Democrats aren’t touting any candidates for the 11th district yet, and it’s more likely they’ll put their resources elsewhere. But in a strong year for Democrats, a candidate could defeat McCotter or his successor for the GOP nomination. 

12th district
Incumbent: John Dingell (D)
28th term (57 percent)
Rating: Safe Democratic

Republicans made this district safer, swapping out the more conservative Monroe County and adding more of the south Detroit population, including the city of Dearborn.

Dingell hasn’t always had it easy in redistricting. A decade ago, Republicans drew a new map that forced Dingell and then-Rep. Lynn Rivers to face off in the primary. Dingell defeated Rivers in one of the most epic Member-vs.-Member races of the decade.

By drawing the map even safer for Dingell, Republicans conceded the seat. It’s highly unlikely the GOP will target this seat anytime in the next decade.

13th district
Incumbent: John Conyers (D)
24th term (77 percent)
Rating: Safe Democratic

The winner of the Democratic primary in this downtown Detroit district will be its next Member of Congress.

Still, Republicans made their mark in the 13th district, swapping territory between the 13th and 14th districts. The result isn’t pretty. The 13th and 14th zigzag through downtown Detroit, fitting together like horizontal puzzle pieces.

Conyers represents and lives in the new 14th district, but more of his current district lies in the new 13th district. He has not yet announced where he’ll seek re-election, but Members of the delegation expect him to run in the 13th.

At least one local Democrat — state Sen. Bert Johnson — announced he will challenge Conyers. He probably won’t be the only one. Many local Democrats have waited their turn to run for one of these downtown Detroit seats.

If the Democratic field is small, one of those candidates has good shot to defeat Conyers. He’s representing a lot of new territory in the new 13th, and he continues to catch flak for his wife’s incarceration from a bribery conviction.

14th district
Incumbent: Hansen Clarke (D)
1st term (79 percent)
Rating: Safe Democratic

This is another safe district for Democrats, but there’s no shortage of political drama in the primary.

Clarke lives in the redrawn 13th district, but more of his Congressional territory lies in the 14th district. He announced on his Facebook page in mid-August that he would seek re-election there instead.

But Clarke wasn’t the only one with this idea. After his district got the ax, Rep. Gary Peters announced that he also would seek re-election in the 14th. The result will be one of the most fascinating Member-vs.-Member contests of the cycle.

Clarke has a geographical advantage because he’s represented more of the district, but Peters is a dogged campaigner and one of the party’s best fundraisers.

This is also one of the most racially and economically diverse districts in the country. The new 14th district stretches from wealthy Grosse Pointe on the lakeshore through blighted downtown Detroit and north to the blue-collar city of Pontiac. The district is also a majority-minority district: Almost 59 percent of its residents are African-American. Clarke is of mixed race, with a father of Bangladeshi descent and an African-American mother.

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