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Rothenberg: Why I Rate Michigan's Senate Seat As 'Safe' for Democrats

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Although Levin won’t seek re-election, Democrats still have a good chance to hold onto his seat, Rothenberg writes.

No, for two reasons. First, as I have written ad nauseam, voters traditionally have evaluated candidates for state office differently than they have for federal office. Republicans can get elected governor in Democratic states such as Hawaii, Maryland and even Vermont but have no chance in Senate races or presidential contests in those states. Similarly, voters will elect a Democratic governor from time to time in Republican states such as Wyoming or Kansas but refuse to send a Democrat to the U.S. Senate.

Second, while Republicans have held some statewide offices in Michigan for years, the party’s current strength in the state can be traced back to the GOP wave of 2010, when swing voters around the country pulled the party’s lever up and down the ballot. Republicans went into that election with a narrow majority in the state Senate and in the clear minority in the state House but came out of the election with a huge majority in the state Senate and a comfortable one in the state House. Because of that election, Republicans controlled redistricting, both at the state and federal levels, giving the party a chance to draw districts that would enhance the chances that they will control those districts throughout the decade.

After considering all of this, my newsletter had to rate the race. Both “Democrat Favored” and “Safe Democrat” seemed like reasonable ratings.

The lack of an obviously strong Democratic bench and an open seat, during a midterm year, argued for “Democrat Favored,” a less competitive category that at least concluded that Republicans had a pulse in the race, unlike in other states.

But while lots of Republicans names were being floated (some of whom might make the race very interesting), Michigan has a well-earned reputation of being a state where Republicans float their names to get attention and then eventually decide not to run. Without candidates, we are stuck with nothing but fundamentals — and a Republican Party that has proven to be ill-equipped to run a statewide federal race in Michigan.

So we opted for “Safe Democrat.” But ratings are not “predictions.” We don’t “predict” races 20 months out from an election, especially when we don’t know who the nominees will be. A rating at this point in the cycle is our best assessment of what is most likely to happen, pending candidate decisions, changes in presidential performance and the development of a cyclical narrative about the parties and about change.

Our “Safe Democrat” rating could change tomorrow or next month or never, depending on what happens in the race. But at this moment, the burden is on the GOP to prove that it can make this race into a competitive contest.

Stuart Rothenberg (@stupolitics) is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report (rothenbergpoliticalreport.com). Read more at his blog, blogs.rollcall.com/Rothenblog.

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