The Iowa, Colorado, Kansas and North Carolina Senate races, to name four, are getting plenty of attention. But keep an eye on Michigan where in a blue state GOP candidate Terri Lynn Land is in a statistical tie with Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.). RealClearPolitics has the race as a tossup, with the last two public polls showing Peters with a 2 or 3 point lead. Charlie Cook also shows the race to be a tossup.
This is remarkable considering the retiring Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) won the seat in 2008 with 63 percent of the vote and Michigan went for Obama in both 2008 (by 16 points) and 2012 (by 10 points). And Land may be helped in the general election by the governor’s race at the top of the ticket, where Gov. Rick Snyder (R) leads by single digits.
Why then is Michigan so close? In part it is confirmation that the midterms have become nationalized and now serve as a referendum on the president. President Obama’s approval is in the low 40s there. Polling on Obamacare in states with competitive Senate races offers more bad news for Democrats. (The Resurgent Republic poll found this summer “Only 40 percent of these voters approve of Obamacare, remarkably similar to Obama’s overall approval rating. Fifty-eight percent disapprove of Obamacare, identical to the President’s overall disapproval. Few voters in these states are apparently making any distinction between the President and his signature law. Independents oppose Obamacare by a massive margin, 61 to 35 percent.”)
The Land campaign also deserves credit. To a greater extent than perhaps any other Republican she has tied the administration’s anti-energy development and big stall on the Keystone XL pipeline to her opponent. The Detroit News reports:
Land, the former Kent County clerk, touts an “all-of-the-above approach” to energy production, calling for the harnessing of everything from oil and natural gas to nuclear and solar energy to help ease U.S. dependence on overseas oil. It includes support for construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline, according to her campaign, “so our country has access to oil from North America, rather than the Middle East.”
She also has touted “protecting Michigan from climate change, but we must not hurt our recovery with EPA regulations.”
Peters, a three-term congressman and former state senator, is endorsed by groups including the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club, partly for his stance on energy production. He opposes Keystone’s project and voted for a 2009 cap-and-trade bill that would have set a limit on carbon dioxide emissions and allowed companies to buy and sell permits for the emissions.
Land has hit Peters again and again on this contrast and tied him to billionaire anti-pipeline donor Tom Steyer. She has also gone after Peters for his own energy investments (“Land’s campaign also has labeled Peters a hypocrite because of his $19,000 stock investment in French energy firm Total SA, whose Port Arthur, Texas, refinery produces fuel and pet coke. Peters has said he does not plan to sell his Total stock. A Land campaign ad underscored the relationship as ‘A little bit of stock, a lot of hypocrisy.'”) She has also hit him for his Wall Street connections and over $2M in donations from insurance, finance and real estate sectors.
In other words, she has stayed on offense, run her race on bread and butter issues, and seized the populist mantle in the race. Meanwhile, she has run a more disciplined race than some insiders imagined, using some humorous ads to slam Peters for the “war on women” trope. That the Michigan Senate race is this close this late in the election cycle tells you a lot about the Democrats’ problems this year. Whether she wins or not Land is running a textbook campaign and making Democrats sweat and spend money in what should be a slam dunk race.