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Top 10 Senate Districts Most Likely To Flip

August 28, 2018

The Aug. 7 primary election results and corresponding internal polling has the Senate Democrats in the same type of position their House colleagues found themselves in last cycle and the cycle before that. 

The map of potential pickups is temptingly large, but their wallet is not as big as the Republicans. For the Senate in 2018, that discrepancy is $4.47 million cash on hand v. $1.94 million. 

So, the question becomes whether Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint) goes for the win by playing seriously in the eight seats needed to manage a 19-19 split (with the presumed tiebreaker being Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II) or play hard for a likely first-down — a four-to five-seat pick-up. 

Going for the win is tempting. The political environment favors female progressive candidates and the Democrats have a strong contigent of them. However, one could easily argue their House Dem friends let their eyes get larger than their stomachs in ’14 and ’16 and they weren’t able to trim the majority-minority gap. 

Given President Donald Trump’s disapproval rating in Michigan is over 50 percent and national issues are driving political discussions, the Senate Dems would presumably need to really blow it to not pick up at least two or three seats. 

On the other hand, consider some of these primary numbers. 

– Democrat Julia Pulver, who ran unopposed in the traditionally red 15th Senate District in Oakland County, received 535 more votes than presumed frontrunner Rep. Jim Runestad and Mike Saari combined. 

– Democrat Adam Dreher in the Livingston County-based 22nd Senate District received more Aug. 7 votes than presumed Republican frontrunner Lana Theis, who did have a nominal primary opponent. In 2010, now-Sen. Joe Hune, had a slightly more competitive head-to-head primary and still outpolled his primary opponent 3:1.

– Democrat Dayna Polehanki and primary opponent Ghulam Qadir received 8,760 more votes than Rep. Laura Cox in the Livonia-based 7th District four years after Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton) and his primary opponent outpolled Democrat Dian Slavens by 2,466 votes. 

Democratic voters are not known to be strong in primary elections, but their candidates received only 4,112 fewer votes than Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and her primary opponent in the 14th Senate District. Rep. Phil Phelps  and Henry Gaudreau were within 2,116 votes of Sen. Ken Horn (R-Frankenmuth) in the 32nd. 

Clearly, the Senate Democratic Fund can’t play in all of those districts. Which ones they do play in will be telling as to whether Ananich & Co. are going really employing a one-cycle or two-cycle strategy toward majority. 

With that in mind, here is MIRS’ updated list of Top 10 Senate seats likely to flip: 

1. 29th District — *3 – Rep. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) and Rep. Chris Afendoulis (R-Grand Rapids Twp.) are going toe-to-toe on the fundraising front, but Brinks knocked it out of the park on Aug. 7. Her 32,688 votes are nearly four times what the 2014 candidates in this Kent County district got combined. Even some local Republicans are doggedly resigned to losing this seat. How much money will the big West Michigan donors throw into trying to save it? 

2. 13th District — *5 – Sen. Marty Knollenberg (R-Troy) is offering Senate Republican staffers free lunch at his Sedona Taphouse if they walk for him outside of their regular volunteer caucus days the rest of this month or September. Meanwhile, those supportive of Democrat Mallory McMorrow were out polling on Knollenberg’s two DUIs during his younger years. Let’s see if they play that card with any type of paid media. 

3. 20th District — *4 – The numbers aren’t looking great for the easy frontrunner for the MIRS 2018 Senator of the Year honors, Sen. Margaret O’Brien. As if she didn’t have enough on her plate, she’s been dealing with PFAS water contamination in her district, too. She only beat Sean McCann by 61 votes four years ago and Libertarian Lorence Wenke is back to suck away votes from her. 

4. 38th District — *2 – Ed McBroom easily cleared the GOP primary despite having to take time off the campaign trail after the tragic death of his brother, who ran the family farm when McBroom was in Lansing as a state legislator. 

This race with Rep. Scott Dianda (D-Escanaba) may not be as cut-and-dried as it seemed, particularly with a Green Party candidate to drag away votes from progressive voters turned off by Dianda’s sharp turns to the right. McBroom is doing well on the fundraising front and Trump is still doing OK north of the bridge. 

5. 10th District — *1 – What seemed like a slam-dunk win for Rep. Henry Yanez (D-Sterling Heights) four months ago looks more like a 10-foot puppy shot with newcomer Michael MacDonald crushing his GOP primary opponents with 59 percent of the vote. MacDonald is putting the work in. He just doesn’t have much in the kitty while Yanez has been sitting on $85,000. 

6. 34th District — *6 – Well, this isn’t the General Election matchup we thought we’d get four months ago. Rep. Holly Hughes’s (R-Montague) money couldn’t slide her past the more conservative Jon Bumstead, who had marina friends with large, flashing billboards. Poppy Sias-Hernandez had more going for her than Collene LaMonte, who battled health issues much of the summer. 

Trump still does well in rural Muskegon County, although the power of the women’s progressive caucus on the Westshore should not be discounted. Did you know Democratic 2nd Congressional candidate Rob Davidson received twice as many primary votes earlier this month than the ’16 Dem nominee? 

7. 12th District — *NR – Conservatives may be disappointed Rep. Jim Tedder didn’t win this primary, but the way Birmingham is trending, Rep. Mike McCready’s primary victory could be a blessing in disguise. The more moderate McCready brings more bucks to a race in which Rosemary Bayer won more primary votes (27,667) than Tedder, McCready and two other Republican candidates collected combined (27,573). 

8. 7th District — *8 – Democrats got the nominee they wanted in Polehanki and Republicans are happy Cox is not Bill Schuette’s running mate. Cox has an enormous fundraising advantage and the political experience needed to help Republicans set up their firewall here. 

9. 24th District — *9 – Rep. Tom Barrett’s (R-Potterville) skills as a retail, door-to-door politician are multi-pronged, as he showed in the primary. Too short to trim your shrubs? Tom will take care of it! We’ll see if he chases away critters, too, like Sen. Rick Jones did for one constituent or drives home a tipsy bar patron, as he did another. 

Seriously, if this wasn’t the successful public relations guru Kelly Rossman-McKinney running in this district, we probably wouldn’t be even talking about it. 

10. 15th District — *NR – Something is going on in Oakland County that is so fast moving and counterintuitive that it’s taking Lansing and the rest of state observers some time to come to terms with it. This western Oakland County District is definitely in play. 

Pulver is dramatically underfunded compared to Runestad, which still makes her an underdog until we see polling that shows otherwise. 

Dropped Out: 31st Senate District. If Democrat Cindy Luczak was committed to campaigning for this seat, she’d probably be on the list, but Republican Kevin Daley has been running for this seat for five years and has more name ID in more parts of the district. 

32nd Senate District. Rep. Phil Phelps (D-Flushing) got an “A” grade from the NRA, but Sen. Ken Horn got an “A+.” This one is still a possibility for Dems. Phelps was the House’s third-most conservative Democrat last year and didn’t do badly in the primary. We’ll keep an eye on it.

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