Michigan Senate Seat Moves Away from Republicans

by Nathan L. Gonzales October 9, 2014 · 3:00 PM EDT

While the campaign of Michigan GOP Senate nominee Terri Lynn Land crows about a new Wenzel Research poll showing her tailing Democratic nominee Gary Peters by less than three percentage points, it’s increasingly difficult to see this contest as highly competitive.

A year and a half ago, we noted that the retirement of Michigan Democratic Senator Carl Levin gave Republicans at least an opportunity in the open seat contest but emphasized that “the burden is on the GOP to prove that it can make this race into a competitive contest.” Initially, we maintained our “Safe” rating for Democrats

Over the next eight months, Democratic Rep. Gary Peters and Republican former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land emerged as the likely nominees for their respective parties. Early public polling pointed consistently to a close and competitive race, so in November we nudged the race out of the Safe category and into Democrat Favored as part of our full analysis of the race in The Rothenberg Political Report. 

After another three months, there were still no signs that Peters was opening up the advantage in the race that we expected Democrats to have. Land remained very competitive in fundraising and in the polls, Peters was still relatively unknown statewide, President Barack Obama’s job approval numbers were slumping, and GOP Gov. Rick Snyder looked increasingly in strong position for re-election.

Given that, we changed our rating at the end of February from Favored to Lean Democratic. (RPR story: Michigan Senate- Evolving GOP Opportunity). 

But even though nearly a year of polls showed Land and Peters battling in the low to mid-40s in general election ballot tests (some even showed Land with the lead), we never rated the race as a Toss-Up, and never more vulnerable than Lean Democratic. We believed that the fundamentals of the state – and concerns about Land’s ability to answer questions about federal policy and the way the Senate works -- continued to work against Republicans.

Now, in addition to Governor Snyder looking weaker than expected, Michigan is falling down GOP Senate target list and Peters has established a modest but consistent lead in the race.

A few days ago, the NRSC cut back $850,000 from its television ad campaign in the final two weeks – a sure sign that national Republican strategists no longer see the GOP challenger’s campaign as a good investment.

Land’s chances of winning are now closer to long-shot Republican opportunities in Minnesota and Oregon – all of which would require a substantial partisan wave to sweep the GOP nominees to victory. Because of that, we are changing our Rothenberg Political Report rating of the race from Lean Democratic to Democrat Favored.