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Why Michigan Republicans could start winning more elections

There’s no denying that some elements in the so-called Tea Party have been scaring moderate and independent voters away from the Republicans. But if Democrats think it is going to be easy to defeat Governor Rick Snyder, and make big gains in next year’s statewide elections, they may be guilty of self-deluding themselves.

I didn’t go to the Republican Party’s annual leadership conference on Mackinac Island last week, though I followed it closely. And I think that there were hints at Mackinac of two major stories emerging on the horizon.

One is national. Rand Paul, the freshman senator from Kentucky, is often portrayed as being on the far-out libertarian fringe of the GOP. His father, Ron Paul, has been a perennial Republican and Libertarian presidential contender.

But Rand Paul turned heads at Mackinac by telling Republicans what the saner of them already knew, but haven’t had the guts to say: The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is here to stay, and it is time for Republicans in Congress to move beyond mindless symbolic attempts to repeal it. “I’m acknowledging that we can’t probably defeat or get rid of Obamacare,” Paul said, adding that “maybe we get to a position where we make it less bad.“

That is what in past years has happened with Republicans and Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Paul said he was still in favor of not funding the President’s health plan, but politics is the art of compromise.

And after a lifetime of watching both parties, I think he is the odds-on favorite to be the next Republican presidential nominee-- and may be much more formidable than Democrats think.

Turning back to Michigan, I think the same can be said for Terri Lynn Land, who now seems certain to be the GOP nominee for the U.S. Senate seat next year. Democrat Carl Levin is retiring, which means a race without an incumbent for the first time in 20 years.

Republicans have a spectacular record of failure in U.S. Senate elections in this state, winning only one contest in more than 40 years. There’s reason, however, to believe that Land may be a much stronger candidate than some Democrats think.

She will have lots of money; her family alone can throw millions into this race. She is better known statewide than her almost certain Democratic opponent, Oakland County Congressman Gary Peters.  Land, perceived as a moderate by many voters, was twice elected secretary of state by landslide margins, running far ahead of the rest of her party’s ticket. In his only statewide race, Peters became the first Democrat in half a century to lose a race for attorney general. 

Democrats also should know that as unpopular as Governor Snyder may be with some folks, the voters haven’t denied any governor a second term in decades. Traditionally, Republicans always have a built-in advantage in non-presidential years, because their voters are better at turning out in so-called off-year elections.

That doesn’t mean next year might not be a Democratic year.  But if Democrats think they are going to have an easy time winning the big statewide races, they may be setting themselves up for a fall.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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