WSW: Michigan's Political Landscape

Aug 28, 2014

Credit Wikimedia Commons

Two Western Michigan University Professors evaluate the political climate in Southwest Michigan and beyond.

Political Science Professors Peter Wielhouwer and John Clark sat down with WMUK's Gordon Evans to look at a few important races and how the political parties are approaching this fall's election. 

Wielhouwer says the Republicans have a good chance to take control of the U.S. Senate in this fall's general election. He says the open seats and competitive elections give the GOP a better chance of taking the Senate than they had in 2010 or 2012. Clark says Michigan is one of several states with an open Senate race, where Republicans are hoping to take a seat currently held by a Democrat.

Former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land is the Republican nominee. Clark says the Democratic party is also working hard to keep the seat and elect Congressman Gary Peters to succeed retiring Senator Carl Levin. 

The 20th state Senate district is expected to be one of the most competitive races for the state Legislature this November. Clark says all indications are that the race between two current state Representatives, Republican Margaret O'Brien and Democrat Sean McCann, will be close.

The district includes all of Kalamazoo County, which Clark says has been very competitive between the two parties when looked at over several elections. Clark and Wielhouwer say both candidates are well-known, and have a history of winning elections in the Kalamazoo area. 

The state Republican and Democratic parties formally nominated their candidates for statewide office at party conventions last weekend. Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley was challenged for the Republican nomination, but delegates backed the incumbent to seek another term with Governor Rick Snyder. The Democratic Party nominations included Kalamazoo attorney Mark Totten for state Attorney General. Clark says Michigan's hybrid system for selecting party nominees uses a mix of primaries and conventions. He says it allows party leaders to "balance" their ticket for geography, race, gender and other factors. 

But Wielhouwer says while Democrats "obsess" over balancing their ticket for factors such as race, Republicans generally don't worry about those things. He says the GOP looks to find the candidates who they think can win. Clark notes that Republicans aren't a very diverse political party.  "Fair enough" says Wielhouwer. 

"That enables them to nominate candidates who are just going to be less goofy than other candidates in the earlier years of the movement."

Clark says a convention system allows party leaders to find electable candidates. He says Democrats still control the U.S. Senate because some Republican candidates who were selected through primaries in 2010 and 2012 could not win a general election. 

Wielhouwer says establishment Republicans have learned their lesson in fighting back so-called "insurgent challenges." But he says the tea party has learned more about what it takes to win. Wielhouwer says "that enables them to nominate candidates who are just going to be less goofy than other candidates in the earlier years of the movement."