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Dems and Republicans to battle over Michigan's open Congressional seats

As voters pass judgment in the first mid-terms of the Trump era, many are wondering if Michigan will be a congressional battleground in 2018.

There’s a lot of talk about the possibility of a wave-election come November as Democrats prepare for their “wait-til-next-time” moment after the Trump upset of 2016 when Michigan played a central role.

And after last fall’s gubernatorial wins in New Jersey and Virginia and the Roy Moore drama in the Alabama Senate race, 2018 is shaping up to be a doozy of an election year.

Across the country, Democrats and Progressives are gearing up get-out-the vote-efforts after their wins in the aforementioned states.

In November, the entire House of Representatives is up for election. Michigan has 14 of those seats, three of which will have no current Congressmen running.

As Matt Grossman, political science professor and pollster at the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University, tells It’s Just Politics, “everybody pays more attention to races once there is no incumbent.”

Without incumbents in those seats, it likely means a primary on both sides. And that means we’ll get a hint of how voters are feeling in August when Republicans and Democrats choose their candidates to run against each other.

We’ll get a sense of where things stand between the Trump insurgents and the Republican establishment, as well as whether the Bernie Sanders progressives and the Clinton centrists have made nice.

In order to win, Democrats need to fix their turnout issue. Republicans, meanwhile, need to get the Trump coalition to get out to the polls again without alienating the roughly two-thirds of the public that appears to be unimpressed with the president at this juncture.

In theory, these three open seats present the biggest opportunity for the parties to pick up seats they currently don’t hold.

“Incumbency is a huge advantage when running for Congress, so anytime there’s an open seat, we expect a more competitive race between the parties. It matters not only for voters, but also for potential funders, and activists and interest groups,” Grossman says.

So, look for the 11th Congressional District in southeast Michigan to be a free-for-all now that Republican Dave Trott has called it quits after just two terms. It’s a district that leans Republican, but Democrats are hoping an anti-Trump wave just might help them carry it.

In the same way, the Ninth Congressional District leans Democrat, but Republicans could potentially eye a pickup with the retirement of incumbent Sander Levin.

But that’s not the case in the 13th District. That’s the seat that’s empty with the resignation of Democrat John Conyers. The respected Cook Political Report gives Democrats an automatic 32-point advantage there.

At the same time, Democrats are also eyeing potential pick-up opportunities if they can find the right challengers to incumbent Republicans Tim Walberg in the Seventh and Mike Bishop in the Eighth districts.

Bishop and Walberg are just two of many Republicans who will have to decide where to position themselves when it comes to the controversial president.

They have to decide whether they are running as Trump Republicans (remember that while the president’s overall approval ratings appear to be pretty low, he’s still plenty popular with the Republican base) or if they will try and put some distance between themselves and a president whose unpredictable proclivities will have an impact on what happens to other Republicans in November.

Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta, Michigan Radio's It's Just Politics team, joined Stateside today too. Listen to that conversation here.

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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