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How will Trump Twitter rage play in Election 2018 in Michigan?

Will President Trump’s Twitter rage be turned against Michigan’s senior U.S. Senator if Debbie Stabenow votes against his nominee for the Supreme Court? And would it make a difference?

Yea or Nay

Senator Stabenow is one of 10 Senate Democrats running - or expected to run - for reelection in 2018 in states won by President Donald Trump last November.

A vote for - or against - Trump’s nominee Neil Gorsuch potentially puts these Democrats in a bind. Will they face a backlash in their ostensibly swing home states if they stick with their party and oppose the nomination?

Stabenow has announced that she is a “no” vote on Gorsuch, even though she did vote previously to put him on the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Republicans can’t wait (and they aren’t) to use this against her.

But Stabenow says it’s Gorsuch’s performance on the 10th circuit that’s led her to vote “no.”

“Over and over again, he’s just sided with big interests,” she told It’s Just Politics, “and I think he doesn’t represent the view of the world that I think is in the best interests of the people of Michigan.”

Opposition Messaging

The GOP has a TV ad buy and a social media campaign to pressure Stabenow to allow the nomination to go to an up-or-down floor vote, where the Senate’s Republican majority would almost certainly confirm him.

And the message isn’t subtle: Trump won Michigan -- the first Republican presidential candidate to do so in almost three decades -- and those voters won’t forget if she goes up against the president.

And, that’s not all. Republicans are already preparing: trying to lock down Trump Democrats in Macomb County and northern Michigan in an effort to stave off defections in the mid-terms. They know that Trump won the state, but only by the thinnest of margins.

And they know that the conventional political rules would forecast a spanking in the mid-terms for the party in the White House. The 2018 elections will be the first big test of whether those rules still apply in the Trump era. The Stabenow election will be a key indicator, but it’s not just congressional races at stake.

2018 in Michigan

Because of term limits, in Michigan, there will be vacancies for governor, attorney general, and secretary of state. All of the seats in the state House and Senate will be up for election as well.

Republicans are worried about being the “incumbent party” in 2018.  But Democrats have to be worried at how they failed to turn out their voters in 2016. If they can’t get Democrats to the polls in a presidential year, what does that portend for the lower-turnout mid-terms?

Which brings us back to the Supreme Court. A vote to support the Gorsuch nomination would create a problem for Stabenow with core Democratic voters, many of whom remain peeved that Republicans never gave President Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland a hearing, let alone a vote.

And the first rule of political campaigns is to lock down your base.

Let’s not forget, too, we don’t know who the Republican will be facing Stabenow in the Republican column on the ballot in 2018. It’s still a generic question without a GOP candidate with a real record.

The fact is 2016 was both an upset and a wave. Republicans want to make it a trend. Democrats are hoping for an equal and opposite reaction in 2018.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
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