Levin Retirement Expands Senate Battlefield
Late this week, MI Sen. Carl Levin announced that he would retire at the end of his term, rather than seek reelection next year. Levin is the 4th Democrat Senator to announce his retirement next year. Senate Democrats already faced a challenging political landscape to retain their majority. Levin's retirement adds to that challenge, making a safe Senate seat competitive.
Democrats are defending 22 seats next year, against the GOP's 11. Six of the Democrat seats, however, are in states won by Mitt Romney last year: Arkansas, Alaska, Louisiana, South Dakota, Montana and West Virginia. Only one GOP seat is in a blueish state, Maine. If the GOP were to sweep these six states, the party would take over control of the Senate.
Other opportunities for Republicans include Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Virginia and New Hampshire, which are all very competitive in mid-term elections. Many of the Democrats up for reelection first won their seat in 2008, Obama's first election year. The turnout in 2014 is likely to be very different than that wave election.
Two leading contenders for the GOP in Michigan have already stated they won't run for Levin's seat. Rep. Candice Miller and Attorney General Bill Schuette swiftly said that they would run for reelection in their current offices. Rep. Mike Rodgers has also been mentioned as a candidate, but he would have to forfeit his Chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee to make the run.
Michigan House Majority Whip Pete Lund is publicly exploring a bid for the seat. Dem. Rep. Gary Peters has also indicated he is looking at the race.
Whomever runs, the race is certain to be both competitive and very expensive. In 2012, when Sen. Debbie Stabenow crushed Rep. Peter Hoesktra by 21 points, both sides still managed to spend more than $20 million.
Michigan is a reliably blue state in Presidential elections, but much more competitive in mid-term elections. In 2010, the GOP swept almost every office in the state. The incumbent Gov. Rick Synder, who controversially pushed right-to-work legislation through the Legislature, is up for reelection. Labor unions will likely increase their activity, even more than they normally would to defeat Synder. It's possible, in fact, that the Senate race will be determined more by state and local issues, including Synder's take-over of Detroit, than national issues.
Until candidates emerge, Democrats should be considered to have the edge in retaining Levin's seat. The seat, however, is definitely in play. It's a contest the Democrats weren't counting on. It has made their job next year a bit more challenging.
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