Voters elected the entire current House of Representatives less than a year ago. Nevertheless, the politicians are already hard at work planning next year’s campaigns.
That’s not surprising - given what’s at stake and the money candidates need these days to be competitive.
Democrats know gaining the 18 seats they’d need to take back control of the U.S. House of Representatives is an extremely long shot, especially given the historical trend that the party holding the White House tends to lose, not gain seats in off-year elections.
But they are determined to try, especially after the shutdown and the possibility of defaulting on the national debt.
So there’s a nationwide battle for what few swing seats are thought to exist. In Michigan, you might expect attention would center on the First District, which includes the entire sparsely populated Upper Peninsula, and a big chunk of the northern lower, as well.
There, U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Iron River, won re-election by fewer than 2,000 votes out of nearly 400,000.
New Democratic State Chair Lon Johnson has recruited a man he believes is a strong challenger, former Vietnam veteran and Kalkaska County sheriff Jerry Cannon. But Benishek has taken some steps to move towards the center - supporting, for example, last week’s deal to fund the government and end the shutdown.
And surprisingly, all the real action so far - in both parties - has centered on the 11th district, which includes mainly middle-class and affluent Detroit-area suburbs. Things were thrown into turmoil last year when former U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, R-Livonia, failed to qualify for the ballot when many of his petition signatures turned out to have been illegally photocopied. He then abruptly quit.
That left “Krazy Kerry” Bentivolio, a reindeer trainer and ex-high school teacher whose tea party views were seen as extreme. Establishment Republicans tried, and failed, to beat him with a write-in candidate. Democrats made an effort, but their candidate, Syed Taj, a physician and township trustee, had several handicaps. Though likeable and competent, he was a Muslim with an unfamiliar name, whose voice was rich with the accent of his native India. Bentivolio won in November, 51 to 44 percent.
But he hasn’t satisfied more mainstream Republicans in the district and elsewhere, who are now lining up and opening up their checkbooks on support of David Trott, a foreclosure attorney from Birmingham who is running as an establishment conservative.
After declaring he would be a candidate in the GOP primary, Trott raised nearly $650,000 in less than a month, including checks from heavy hitters like pizza and sports baron Mike Ilitch
Meanwhile, Bentivolio raised a mere $59,000 in three months. That does not mean, however, that he is a sure loser.
Incumbency is a powerful tool. Few voters are likely to turn out for the primary next August, especially if, as seems likely, there are no contested statewide contests. It is also possible that groups like the Manhattan-based Club for Growth, or the Koch Brothers, could ride to Mr. Bentivolio’s rescue with immense cash reserves.
This race may be about to get more interesting still. Jocelyn Benson, a 35-year-old powerhouse who is the interim dean of Wayne State University’s law school, is reportedly interested in the Democratic nomination for the 11th District seat.
Benson was the Democratic candidate for secretary of state in 2010, She lost, but did considerably better than the party’s candidates for governor or attorney general. She was widely expected to seek a rematch with Secretary of State Ruth Johnson next year, but now is reportedly thinking of Congress instead.
The dean is an attractive and charismatic candidate, but taking on this race would also pose enormous risks. Losing two elections in a row might be irreparably damaging to her political career.
This race will indeed be one to watch.
But in any event it is clear is that it will take hard work and a lucky break for Michigan Democrats to gain any seats in Congress next year.
Time for a Bush? There’s evidence that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush would like to run for the GOP presidential nomination next time, but so far, few seem excited about the prospect.
Most embarrassingly, his mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, said earlier this year that “there are other people out there who are very qualified, and we‘ve had enough Bushes.”
To be sure, his brother, George W. Bush, was hugely unpopular when he left the White House, and his father, George H.W. Bush, was the last U.S. President defeated for re-election.
But if history is any guide, Republicans need to nominate Mr. Bush next time. Consider: Since 1972, every winning GOP presidential ticket has had a Bush on it, either for president or vice-president. Bushes were nominees in 1980, ‘84, ‘88, 2000, and ‘04.
When Bushes weren’t on the ticket - 1976, ‘96, 2008 and ‘12, Democrats were elected President. The only time a ticket with a Bush on it lost was 1992, when H. Ross Perot split GOP support.
Five out of six is pretty good odds. And consider this: Until Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980 (with a Bush as running mate) every winning Republican ticket since 1928 included a man named Richard M. Nixon. My guess is that nobody in the GOP (or anywhere else) has yet thought nominating Jeb Bush for President and Michigan Budget Director John Nixon for vice president.
But if Republicans want to win … maybe they should.
Jack Lessenberry, who teaches journalism at Wayne State University, is Michigan Radio’s senior political analyst, an ombudsman and writing coach for the Toledo Blade and former foreign correspondent for and executive national editor of The Detroit News. He was named Journalist of the Year in 2002 by the Metropolitan Detroit Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.