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Democrats hoping for Hillary Clinton in fight against GOP's Walberg

Democratic state Representative Gretchen Driskell’s nascent campaign for Congress relies in part on the assumption that Hillary Clinton will be at the top of the Democratic ticket next year.

With 631 days to go until Election 2016, some political watchers were surprised at how early the former Saline mayor announced her campaign to unseat Republican Tim Walberg in Michigan’s 7th Congressional district. In fact, it’s only been a month since Driskell was sworn in for her second term in Lansing as a state Representative.

The early announcement has some outraged (outraged, we say!); it’s got talking heads bemoaning the fact that the 2016 campaign season is already underway.

Certainly there is truth in the fact that election cycles in modern times continue to begin earlier and earlier but, fear not, this is not the signal of the beginning of the campaign season. This is, rather, the beginning of the fundraising season, unseen and unheard by most voters.

A huge reason for Driskell’s early announcement is money. To win the 7th, Driskell needs to be fundraising right now. And she is a prolific fundraiser. Even though Ann Arbor is not within her district, she is from Washtenaw County and has an in with the University town’s wealthy liberal donors.

And, then, there’s Hillary Clinton. Michigan, when it comes to Presidential elections, is a blue state. It has voted for the Democratic nominee for President for the past six cycles. The idea is that, with Clinton on the top of the ticket, the former Secretary of State will add a little turbo-charge to Democratic women on the ballot and draw out female voters. The hope is Clinton will be a game-changer in places like the marginally-Republican 7th District.

Mitt Romney barely won the 7th in 2012. President Obama won it in 2008. Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow won the district in her most recent reelection bid.

Driskell does have a history of winning Republican seats. She won her state House seat in 2012 by toppling a Republican incumbent in a GOP-leaning district; one of the reasons she was recruited this season by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for the federal seat.

But, in order to win, the very fundamentals of any campaign will have to break Driskell’s way: Fundraising. Outside support. Volunteers. Voter turnout.

Walberg has won re-election three times in a row. He’ll no doubt get support from outside groups like the Fund for Growth (an early Walberg backer). During redistricting, Walberg succeeded in getting his bête noire county - Calhoun - drawn out of his district. Calhoun County’s Battle Creek was home to Mark Schauer, the now former Democratic Congressman from the 7th – and the Democratic candidate for governor last year.

It’s also home to former Republican Congressman Joe Schwarz. Walberg unseated the moderate-Republican Schwarz in the 2006 primary. Schauer then beat Walberg in 2008 (the only Democrat yet to beat him) before Walberg won the seat back.

We’ll see if things don’t come together to make the 7th a fight again in 2016. 

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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