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Dems Squeak By Republicans In Legislative Turnout Battle

August 14, 2018

Last Tuesday’s primary numbers have Democrats downright giddy as General Election season kicks off, and if the past is predictive of the future, they have a reason to be.

August 7 showed 1.1 million voters picking the Democratic Party primary, more than the 985,000 the Republicans saw. It marks the first time the Democrats have generated more interest in the Michigan gubernatorial primary than the last year the D’s took the governor’s chair from Republicans – 2002. 

So what does this mean for legislative races? 

The caucuses are pouring through the numbers now, but here’s the bottom line. 

Republicans’ control of the House and Senate after the 2018 elections is far from a guarantee. It’s closer to a 50/50 proposition. 

Consider this. If the results of the November General Election were based on the number of voters who participated in each party’s primaries, the Republicans’ 27-11 advantage in the Senate would be trimmed to 21-17, based on MIRS‘ review of the numbers. 

In the House, the Republicans’ 63-46 majority would be cut all the way down to 56-54. 

While this is clearly not an exact science, the last two gubernatorial years show that primary turnout isn’t that far off in predicting what happens in the General Election. In 2014, Republicans saw a better primary turnout in 27 of 38 Senate seats. They ended winning majority in November, 27-11. 

In the House, Republicans saw higher primary turnout numbers in 64 of 110 House seats in 2014. They ended up winning majority, 63-47. 

In 2010, Republicans saw the same thing in the Senate. Their candidates, in a combined 27 seats, had higher turnout numbers than the Dems’ candidates. The R’s won a 26-12 majority that year. 

The House was a bit more dramatic, with 76 of 110 seats having higher Republican turnout. They won back majority that year in a huge 20-seat swing, 63-47. 

In last week’s primaries, Republicans should take comfort in a few races. Their primary in the Muskegon-based 34th Senate District generated more interest than the Democratic race, 25,869 to 21,851. Their two candidates in the Upper Peninsula-based 38th District earned a slim 400-vote edge over Democratic candidate Rep. Scott Dianda (D-Calumet), their lone candidate. 

Sen. Dale Zorn (R-Ida) and Sen. Ken Horn (R-Frankenmuth) did well in collecting votes. The competitive Kevin Daley/Gary Glenn race in the Bay County-based 31st District generated 30,856 votes, more than the 20,278 votes from the lower-key Democratic race. 

Michael MacDonald’s vote total, when combined with his Republican opponents, was more than that of Rep. Henry Yanez (D-Sterling Heights) by 1,735 votes. 

But here were the alarming seats as far as Republicans go. The Democratic challengers of Sen. Marty Knollenberg (R-Troy) and Sen. Margaret O’Brien (Mallory McMorrow and Sean McCann) recorded 8,012 and 9,005 more votes, respectively, Tuesday than the incumbents. 

Rep. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) pulled in 32,688 votes compared to the 23,547 that Rep. Chris Afendoulis (R-Grand Rapids) and his nominal primary opponent pulled in. 

Oakland County may present a very real problem for Republicans. 

Democrat Julia Pulver received 29,173 votes to the 28,638 received by Rep. Jim Runestad and Mike Saari in the 15th District. Rosemary Bayer received 27,667 votes to the 27,573 received by eventual nominee Mike McCready, Rep. Jim Tedder and their two GOP primary opponents in the Rochester-based 12th. 

Democrats Dayna Polehanki and Ghulam Qadir received 37,830 votes. Rep. Laura Cox (R-Livonia) received 29,070 votes in the Livonia-based 7th. 

The Senate and the House results were similar in that the more rural the district, the better Republicans did. 

Macomb County seems to be status quo for the R’s. Both Rep. Diana Farrington (R-Utica) and Rep. Steve Marino (R-Harrison Twp.) saw more participation in the Republican primary in their districts, for example. 

But anything else in suburban areas and the GOP is in big trouble. Michelle Lavoy had more votes than Rep. Joe Bellino in the Monroe-based 17th. Democratic nominee Laurie Pohutsky and Dan Centers combined for 11,370 votes to Republican Brian Meakin’s 9,526 in the Livonia-based 19th. Next door in the 20th, Democrat Matt Koleszar 11,540, Rep. Jeff Noble (R-Plymouth) 10,059. 

Rep. Brandt Iden (R-Oshtemo Twp.) got 8,801 votes, but the three Democratic candidates generated a combined 10,611 votes. 

Districts that Republicans never considered to be issues before may need to be considered. 

Rep. Kathy Crawford (R-Novi) fended off a spirited challenger, but the Democrats actually had higher turnout in the 38th House District. Nominee Kelly Breen received 5,237 votes to Crawford’s 5,491. 

The Birmingham-based Democratic primary in the 40th saw 16,733 votes to the Republicans’ 11,687. Democrat Padma Kuppa in the 41st had 10,330 votes running alone in the 41st District. The three Republican candidates managed 10,248 combined. 

Republicans saw better turnout in the Muskegon County-based 92nd and Democrats better turnout in the Eaton County-based 71st. Republicans also stayed strong in Northern Michigan, the Rep. Roger Hauck (R-Mt. Pleasant) 99th District, the Rep. Beau LaFave (R-Iron Mountain) 108th District and the open 101st all saw high turnout numbers. 

However, Traverse City is shaping up to be a battleground. Democrat Dan O’Neil, who has already raised more than $100,000, was less than 200 votes away from Rep. Larry Inman’s primary vote total, 11,923 to 11,733 in the 104th. 

Sen. Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), the head of the Senate Republicans’ campaign efforts, said he’s been looking at similar data for months and Republicans cannot afford to take majority or success for granted. 

“Turnout will be the deciding factor in both chambers,” he said. “It’s up to us as the Republican Party to coalesce after the primary, put Humpty Dumpty back together and present a singular, unified message about what we’ve been able to accomplish. 

“We really need to test people’s memories about what could happen if things go south. We need to remind our friends and neighbors, who may not be energized. This is our challenge.” 

A leader in the House Democratic Campaign Committee, Rep. Kevin Hertel (D-St. Clair Shores), said the level of enthusiasm and engagement he saw in the primary numbers is matching what his team is seeing on the ground. 

“Every time I see another data point, it confirms what my brother (Sen. Curtis Hertel (D-East Lansing)) has been saying that they could take back the Senate. There’s a level of excitement and engagement that we, as Democrats haven’t felt in a quite a while.” 

Both leaders concurred that there’s still a lot of time until the Nov. 6 General Election. Also, majority – for either side – cannot be taken for granted.

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