Massive Democratic Turnout on March 8th Puts Control of the Michigan House in Play
Yesterday’s Presidential primary in Michigan broke the participation record set back in 1972’s Presidential primary – both in absolute terms and as a percentage of registered voters participating. While the League of Women Voters types will laud this, the establishments in both the Republican and Democratic Parties are flummoxed. Donald Trump crushed John Kasich and Bernie Sanders beat Hillary. Establishment candidates failed. Both party establishments are scrambling to finesse the insubordination of their voters.
Pundits figure that the Democratic Party establishment can bring their obstreperous base to heel, but few figure the Republican Party establishment will have any corresponding success. The prospective success or failure of their counterinsurgency warfare, and its effect upon November, fixates the press and both establishments.
But there is a less obvious, very ill portent here for Michigan Republicans.
Michigan’s voter turnout record yesterday strongly suggests a major problem for our Republican establishment. Republican turnout in the earlier Presidential primaries held this year has been higher than Democratic turnout by a 60/40 ratio. This despite generally higher Democratic voter registrations and an equally hot, mirror image Democratic Presidential primary race. Republican analysts have jubilantly cited this as proof of a nationwide enthusiasm gap benefiting Republican candidates But the voter turnout ratio in Michigan yesterday was only 53/47. Not much of an enthusiasm gap. Democrats in Michigan are also red hot. Whole percentage points really matter here, right down to the local level; political strategists spend millions to get every percentage point they can.
Only in the Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Vermont primaries did the Democrats achieve a better turnout ratio than Michigan’s.
Has Michigan suddenly lurched left, joining these Democratic bastions?
Probably not, but the massive Democratic turnout convincingly demonstrates that Michigan Republicans do have an existential problem: Flint.
Hillary Clinton has been working over Michigan’s Republicans on the subject of Flint water quality decisions hard for two months on the campaign trail. Bernie was actually the first Democratic candidate to call for Governor Snyder’s resignation. Hillary joined his call in their Flint debate. The Republican response has been lame and muted. This has intensely motivated Democratic voters in Michigan and represents an existential threat to our Republican candidates in November. Not just Michigan Republican candidates, but Republican candidates nationwide. Democratic strategists will gleefully write ‘Willy Horton’ style advertisements which cast Governor Snyder as the virtual running mate of the Republican Presidential nominee. In fact, any Republican candidate who has had any remote relationship with Governor Snyder will discover just how closely he/she is related to the Governor. Merely being a Republican will probably suffice.
Back to Michigan. Republicans have enjoyed a tenuous majority in the State House of Representatives since 2010. Twenty-six current Republican House members will be unable to run for reelection in November due to term limits. Only 13 Democratic House members will be unable to run for reelection in November due to term limits. The current balance in the Michigan House of Representatives is 63 Republicans, 46 Democrats, and one vacant seat (in Macomb County which will almost certainly be filled by a Democrat once its special election is held).
The Democrats only have to flip 9 or 10 seats to take control of the Michigan House. Given that we are looking at a coincidental Presidential election, it is instructive to look at what happened in 2012. Despite widespread opposition from the nascent Tea Party, the Democrats flipped 5 seats to their advantage. Yes, redistricting helped the Democrats, but Democrats actually had one more term limited seat to retain. Ultimately, turnout was the key to Republican losses in 2012. Democratic voters really come out in Presidential elections.
Fast forward to 2016. The Michigan Republican establishment has been on a two year jihad against the Tea Party. Here they have done real damage to their own base without garnering any new adherents. Complete stupidity. They have scrambled – unsuccessfully – to find a Presidential candidate to challenge the Tea Party favorite Donald Trump. Clear evidence that the Tea Party has not been exterminated, but is now exacting a well deserved revenge from the Republican establishment behind a clever – if unloved – leader. And the Michigan Republican establishment’s inept standard bearer, Governor Snyder, has unwittingly created the most powerful Democratic political weapon in a generation: Flint water.
The Michigan Republican establishment is staring into an abyss of their own making. If they lose the Michigan House, Democrats will enthusiastically take control of Michigan’s government. Governor Snyder is badly damaged goods. He will be in no position to tip the balance in negotiations amongst divided legislators. Control of the Michigan Supreme Court will be of only limited help. Michigan politics will regress to the 1970’s. Taxes, spending, and regulation ad nauseum.
This predicament is entirely of the Republican establishment’s making. They have exactly 244 days to fix this mess. They know what they have to do, but will they do it? Can they swallow their Masters of the Universe egos for long enough to win in November? They need friends in a hurry and their only prospects are the very same Tea Partiers they have spent so much to malign.
You will know much more about the sincerity of their political convictions. In 244 days.