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Senate Retirement Means Michigan's Dominoes Are Starting to Fall

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Levin’s retirement cracked open the pipelines for statewide contenders in future cycles.

For a state that consistently votes for Democrats for president, Michigan has offered relatively little opportunity for advancement for the party’s congressional hopefuls. But that might change soon — starting this cycle.

“I think we’re in terrific position to take advantage of the demonstrated Democratic leanings of the Michigan voters,” Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Lon Johnson said. “We’ve got our act together.”

The Great Lakes State has a Democratic DNA but veered right in 2010. As a result, a GOP-controlled redraw of the congressional boundaries last cycle gave Republicans a 9-to-5 advantage over Democrats in the House delegation.

But Democratic Sen. Carl Levin’s retirement reverberated throughout his party’s ranks. Democratic Rep. Gary Peters easily cleared his party’s field to replace Levin in 2014, but the race cracked open the pipelines for statewide contenders in future cycles.

Specifically, state and national Democrats mentioned that University of Michigan trustee Mark Bernstein, Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown, 5th District Rep. Dan Kildee and Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy could run statewide one day.

In the 2014 Senate race, the GOP’s most prominent contender is former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land. Rep. Justin Amash of the 3rd District is the only other high-profile Republican who has yet to rule out a run. But Peters is favored to win over both of them.

Several high-profile Republicans took a pass on Levin’s seat. Republicans said some of them — Reps. Candice S. Miller, Mike Rogers and Dave Camp — could run in another open-seat contest. They also mentioned state Attorney General Bill Schuette, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley and GOP Chairman Bobby Schostak as viable statewide contenders someday.

More immediately, Peters’ Senate bid opens up his House seat in and around downtown Detroit. It’s a safe Democratic district, and many local party leaders are backing state Rep. Rudy Hobbs as Peters’ potential successor.

But there might be more opportunity coming for Democrats soon. Three Democrats in the Michigan delegation are over 80: Reps. John D. Dingell, John Conyers Jr. and Sander M. Levin. Yet the members have shown little indication they plan to leave Congress.

Dingell is the longest-serving member in House history. Whenever the seat opens up, it could stay in the family.

“You’ve gotta think Debbie Dingell is the front-runner, but there are a lot of other people who are impressive,” a Michigan Democratic insider said.

Michigan sources also floated Worthy as a potential successor to Conyers in the 13th District. They also said an open-seat race for. Levin’s 9th District seat would be crowded, possibly including Oakland County Treasurer Andy Meisner, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, Macomb County prosecutor Eric Smith, state Sen. Steve Bieda and Ferndale Mayor David Coulter.

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