Michigan Democrats held their annual state convention last weekend at Detroit’s Cobo Center. A reporter who was there described the mood as “cheerful” and “celebratory.”
“Everybody is very upbeat, but they are also looking forward to 2008 and finishing the job,” state party chairman Mark Brewer said.
Well, on one hand it is easy to see why they might be upbeat. Their incumbent governor was re-elected in a landslide last fall despite a terrible economy and a Republican opponent who broke all records, outspending her by three to one. U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow won by even a larger margin.
Democrats also did something very few experts expected and won control of the Michigan House of Representatives.
Yet I think that in reality, Democrats should be thinking about the mistakes they made last year, rather than their victories.
They utterly booted the state attorney general’s race, which they should have won. Probably the thing that is now hurting them the most is their failure to capture the state senate. That happened because of two Green Party candidates, one in Saginaw and one in Oakland County, who as usual helped elect Republicans.
I am not sure whether Democrats could have done much more about those two seats, which they lost by only a few hundred votes each. But I know that the party could have defeated Tim Walberg, who was elected to Congress from the Seventh District.
Sharon Renier, a plucky organic farmer, came within fewer than 10,000 votes of beating him, despite the fact that the party refused to give her any money or any help whatsoever.
Walberg, who knocked off incumbent Joe Schwarz in the primary, is considerably to the right of what is really a fairly moderate district. Democrats are betting they can take him out next year, but it is always harder to defeat an incumbent than a challenger.
In Oakland County, Nancy Skinner ran a far better race than expected against the aging Joe Knollenberg, and again the party did very little for her, financially or otherwise.
She has now been given a job as the First Gentleman’s chief of staff, and is presumably preparing for another run. If so, she might have a shot. There is an old saying in politics that you run once to get known and a second time to get elected, and Democratic turnout is normally greater in presidential years.
The key for Michigan Democrats next year is whether they really care about “finishing the job,” as Mr. Brewer said, or whether, as usual, all the attention and money will go to the top of the ticket.
That shouldn’t have to happen. Back in the 1980s, Michigan voted closer to the national average in presidential elections than any other state. Now, it is considerably more Democratic. If a Democrat can’t carry Michigan, they won’t win the White House.
But as for what will really happen next year, let me close with something truly original: Only time will tell.