Democrats Eye Wolverine Gains

Posted January 14, 2009 at 6:18pm

After knocking off two Michigan Republicans in 2008, national Democrats say they see more room for growth in the Wolverine State and are already marking their targets there for 2010.

They have their sights especially trained on Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, who has a role in House leadership as chairman of the GOP Policy Committee. McCotter received 51 percent against a poorly funded, unknown Democratic opponent in 2008. Since his election in 2002, McCotter has never received more than 57 percent of the vote.

McCotter’s performance, plus Democrats’ recent success in Michigan, make him a natural target for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2010. But Michigan Republicans say Democrats could be overreaching in 2010, especially with two freshman Members to defend.

“The DCCC will stay aggressive this cycle and will continue to challenge Republicans who are out of step with their districts,” DCCC spokesman Ryan Rudominer said. “We are certainly keeping a close eye on Thad McCotter, who only garnered 51 percent against a first-time candidate who spent under $29,000.”

The DCCC also appears to be interested in targeting Rep. Mike Rogers. The four-term Republican received 56 percent of the vote over a perennial Democratic opponent, despite raising at least five times more than he did last cycle.

“I think, obviously, Democrats have made it pretty clear that they’ll be looking at McCotter and Rogers both,” said Nate Bailey, a Republican operative who worked in Michigan in 2008. “I think in both cases they’re going to have a tough case to make.”

Democrats could also look to target the seat held by Rep. Fred Upton (R), a moderate who has not been a Democratic target in recent cycles. Upton garnered 58 percent of the vote in 2008, despite outspending his Democratic opponent 15 times over.

Just this week Rogers was tapped by the National Republican Congressional Committee to head up its incumbent retention team, making it his job to defend McCotter and Upton as well as his other colleagues.

Rogers said he thought the DCCC was targeting McCotter only based on his numerical performance and argued that he remains a good fit for his suburban Detroit district.

“The good news is that we will be extremely well-prepared, we’ll be well- financed, we’ll raise our money and the candidates that are there and they talk about, Thad McCotter included, are very well-suited to their districts,” Rogers said.

Rogers compared the DCCC quest for McCotter’s seat to some of their expensive unsuccessful targets in the 2008 cycle, such as GOP Reps. Mark Kirk (Ill.), Sam Graves (Mo.) and Mark Souder (Ind.).

“Our candidates are going to be better prepared for 2010 than they were in 2008 and they were in 2006,” Rogers said.

Indeed, Democrats’ hopes could be much larger than reality this cycle. While former Reps. Joe Knollenberg (R) and Tim Walberg (R) were considered pretty obvious targets in 2008, at least one Michigan operative sees McCotter, Upton and Rogers as much less vulnerable. Political consultant Kelly Rossman-McKinney, who describes herself as a nonpartisan, though she supported Walberg and Knollenberg’s Democratic opponents in 2008, appeared skeptical.

“I don’t know anyone out there who is nearly as vulnerable as Joe or Tim were,” she said.

Rossman-McKinney said Democrats would be hard-pressed to find another incumbent Republican who fits the profile of Walberg or Knollenberg in Michigan.

And while Democrats look for more low-hanging fruit in Michigan, they will also have to play defense for the two seats that they won in 2008: Democratic Reps. Gary Peters and Mark Schauer.

“I think that both Peters and Schauer have to be at the top of that list,” Bailey said. “Especially Schauer, who didn’t come in with an overwhelming victory.”

Schauer eked out a 48 percent to 46 percent victory over Walberg in November.

But success for either party could be short-lived: Michigan is slated to lose one or two seats in 2011 redistricting. Depending on which party comes out on top in the state races in 2010, it’s uncertain whether redistricting will help or hurt either party.

“If you’re a Member of the delegation from Michigan, it better not only be in the back of your head, it’s going to be in the front,” Bailey said. “Redistricting is going to have a major impact on Michigan’s Congressional delegation.”