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For politicos, Election 2014 isn't so far away

Tuesday’s local primaries have come and gone. The November runoffs are set. But don’t think people, political people, aren’t looking ahead even further… to next year’s primaries and beyond.  We have big statewide races for governor and an open U.S. Senate seat, and some big congressional races.

At this juncture, it still looks like Democrats are succeeding in their plan to avoid expensive, bitter primaries in their big, key races. In the “D” column, former Congressman Mark Schauer looks uncontested as the candidate to face Governor Rick Snyder. Congressman Gary Peters is in line to be the Senate nominee without a fight. And, this week, in northern Michigan, retired general and former Kalkaska County Sheriff Democrat Jerry Cannon announced his plans to challenge Republican Congressman Dan Benishek. The First Congressional District is one of the state’s very few true toss-up races and Democrats have big hopes to win it come 2014. In fact, the campaign arm of the House Democratic conference is already airing radio ads in northern Michigan. The First is considered winnable by the right pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, conservative Democrat. And, interestingly enough, Democrats think their chances in this seat will actually improve next year without President Barack Obama at the top of the ballot.

If we head south, Democrats are hoping to make a race of it in the Seventh Congressional District and take out incumbent Republican Tim Walberg. Walberg succeeded in having his two political nemeses drawn out of the new Seventh in redistricting; Battle Creek in Calhoun County, home to Joe Schwarz and Mark Schauer, is now in the Third Congressional District. Walberg’s new bête noire is former state Representative Pam Byrnes. This has the prospect to be a barn burner, with social issues taking center stage. Walberg is a conservative former pastor and Tea Party favorite who is a seasoned wedge-issue politician. Byrnes is a center-left business-oriented Democrat, and one of the first Michigan politicians to propose a repeal of the amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions.

Now, there are also some swing seats in the state Legislature within the Seventh. So, how might a little love from national Democratic campaign funds affect those lower races? Republicans have a natural advantage in mid-term elections. Turnout is typically lower than in a presidential year, but the voters who do turn out tend to be older, whiter, and more conservative. So, does a competitive race and all the attention and money that will be paid to the Seventh District change the turnout pattern? Republicans start with an advantage, but have more to lose if that’s the case.

Republicans would certainly like to avoid expensive, divisive primaries, but it doesn’t look like they’ll get their wish. In the Eleventh Congressional District, Congressman Kerry Bentivolio will almost certainly face a primary; probably from lawyer/businessman David Trott. The fact that Bentivolio is in Congress is considered a fluke. He almost certainly would be an asterisk had Congressman Thad McCotter not imploded and left Bentivolio as the only name on the Republican primary ballot. Some Democrats talk about a pickup here, but if it didn’t happen last year, it’s not likely to happen next year.

Another prediction: if Congressman John Conyers, venerable Democrat from Detroit, doesn’t retire, he will almost certainly face a primary. A true legend of the civil rights movement at 84 years old has had to fend off primary challenges in recent years.

And we can’t ignore the Republican side of the U.S. Senate race. A primary has been considered almost a sure bet since Democratic Senator Carl Levin announced his retirement this past winter. Terri Lynn Land, former secretary of state, is the only announced candidate. People are watching to see if Third District Congressman Justin Amash, darling of the GOP’s so-called “liberty wing,” jumps in. But everyone is really watching to see what Republican Congressman Dave Camp does. The powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee told “Politico” he’s thinking about the Senate race. He already has three million dollars in the bank, with the capacity to easily raise a lot more. And the fact that Camp just might be in puts the brakes to a lot of the fundraising and other organizing that other candidates might be doing. It may be August, but Camp has frozen the field.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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