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Michigan Democrats won more votes in some cases, just not the elections

A Republican wave on Tuesday.

Or was it? In Michigan, there is plenty of evidence that it was not, despite being a very good year for Republicans nationally.

More votes, less seats

No doubt there were a lot of Republican victories in the races for governor and the Legislature. But Rick Snyder’s 51 percent can’t be described as a blowout. A lot of the races in swing seats were also quite close.

In fact, Democrats actually won more votes in state House races than Republicans. Democrats won more votes but got fewer seats.

In the 110 state House races, Democrats won 50.9 percent of the total vote. Republicans in aggregate got 48.9. Yes, Republicans won 63 seats but is 48.9 percent of the vote really a “wave”?

Dems win big in education

With one exception, Democrats swept the education boards - the state Board of education and the boards for Michigan State, Wayne State and the University of Michigan. That matters because, even though they are elected positions, almost no one knows who these candidates are.

That makes these board elections some of the most-reliable measures of core party strength - the stalwart yellow dog Democrats, rock-ribbed Republicans straight party ballot voters.

We should note, too, that the one exception is where a Green Party candidate ran a pretty aggressive campaign in the Spartans’ home turf of Lansing and East Lansing. That very well may have siphoned off enough votes from the Democrat to tip the race in the other direction.

Not all unicorns and rainbows

Blame gerrymandering, blame the weather, blame Obama - Republicans continue to control Lansing. But, GOP, be careful what you wish for.

We here at It’s Just Politics know that the coming legislative session is not going to be all unicorns, rainbows and birthday cakes for the GOP.

Yes, Republicans have big majorities. But, that means they’re going to have to work with each other. Large party caucuses in the Legislature like to say, “we have our majority -- let’s use it.”

But there will be some critical differences in just how to use the majority.

Outside of a few rare issues, there are a lot of competing interests within a political party. We have seen that Republicans, for example, largely agree on charter schools, but can be at odds over what to about failing schools. Libertarian Republicans can clash with social conservatives. Even when they agree, one Republican’s fast-track priority is another Republican’s back burner issue.

These are challenges the new Republican leaders in the Legislature will have to grapple with (which, of course, is not to say the Ds wouldn’t trade places in a New York minute).

Heartburn for Snyder?

It’s within this context of a more conservative-leaning Republican majority in Lansing that we turn our attention to Governor Snyder and how he will work with the state House and Senate.

With 51 percent of the vote, Snyder can’t really take credit for helping to pull many, if any, of those Republican legislators across the goal line. Snyder may have moderate goals and instincts but it’s certainly not clear that he can rely on his fellow Republicans to, as well.

That’s why many think this year’s “lame duck” session is the governor’s last, best chance to get a billion-dollar-plus road funding package through the Legislature.

And, remember, too, Rick Snyder is a lame duck. Term limits. He may be free of the shackles of running for reelection, but a lot of legislators won’t be. And, in politics, the most important election is always the next one.

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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