The dynamics of the Michigan Senate race have changed dramatically over the past few months, and the latest polling is beginning to reflect that reality. Republican Secretary of State and U.S. Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land has seen her lead over Democratic Rep. Gary Peters deteriorate.
Republicans have won just 1 of the past 12 Senate races in Michigan, but that 1994 win was also the last time the Michigan Senate race was an open seat contest, and the national political environment is more than favorable enough for the Republican Party to flip this seat.
When we first analyzed this race, we noted that Land’s 2.5-percent lead in the PPD average of polls (below) was just inside the margin of error, but relatively solid and consistent. Peters enjoyed a bump from temporary damage done by the partial government shutdown, which evaporated shortly after, and there seemed to be a legitimate rightward shift similar to the shift that transpired in 2010. Polling conducted even prior to the ObamaCare rollout disaster showed either a very, very close race, or one leaning toward Land.
Gallup’s annual party ID by-state survey showed a clear move toward the Republican Party, and other polling more than suggested Michiganders were beginning to recognize the failed leadership from Democrat dominance in Detroit. Gov. Rick Snyder’s response to the crisis was widely approved of by Michigan voters, and the entire debacle posed an enormous opportunity for credible Republican candidates. Up until April, polling was in line with other variables in the PPD 2014 Senate Map Predictions model.
But Land has made a big mistake. Land has chosen to lay low in a Blue-leaning state rather than hammer Peters on ObamaCare and, a far more powerful issue in the state, the Detroit bankruptcy. When now-Gov. Rick Snyder defeated Democrat Virg Bernero in 2010 by a blow-out 19-point margin, which helped Republicans build historically large majorities in the state legislature, Snyder was not only aggressively campaigning, but he campaigned aggressively against one-party, Democratic dominance.
And that was when Detroit going bankrupt was still just a theoretical prediction. Now, it’s a reality, and voters were and remain outraged. But Land’s lay-low campaign strategy has prohibited her from harnessing that outrage, and it has been a big mistake, allowing Peters to avoid the big issues and instead distract voters with the trivial.
Which brings me to my next point.
Another colossal mistake by the Land campaign was releasing that God-awful ad, “Really?”, which was a response to Gary Peters falling in line with all the vulnerable Democrats this cycle. In a terrible effort to highlight just how ridiculous a narrative it is for a male candidate to attack a woman for waging a “war on women,” the Land campaign managed to craft an ad pollster-slash-focus group guru Frank Luntz said was the worst spot so far during the 2014 campaign cycle.
Luntz said the ad failed to “give any message” or “communicate any sense of substance,” and I couldn’t agree more with Frank’s assessment.
“I’m going to upset the candidate, who’s going to see it. But this is the worst ad of the political process,” Luntz said.
In the ad, Land says Peters and his “buddies” claim she’s “waging a war on women.” “Really?” Land asks. “Think about that for a second.” Terrible elevator-like music plays as she proceeds to sip from her coffee cup for a whopping 13 seconds before finally saying that as a woman she “might know a little bit more about women than Gary Peters.”
Neither Luntz nor I have ever seen dials in a focus group go so low. Michiganders have a habit of writing off candidates they feel have wasted their time or insulted their intelligence with poorly thought-through political ads (think the 20-point loss by Pete Hoekstra and his “Debbie Spend-It-Now” ad in 2012).
Terri Lynn Land was and still is a credible candidate who can realistically defeat the very bland Rep. Gary Peters, who has an albatross hanging around his neck because he actually represented the Detroit suburbs before winning a competitive primary for a majority African-American district. But taking the same sit-back, wait-and-see strategy that native-born Mitt Romney took in 2012 will not work. She must get out to the voters on a personal level with a message of substance that offers a real alternative.
I would further suggest that she also take that message to voters outside of the reliably Republican counties in northern Michigan, because it won’t be enough to win. Here’s a little hint for her pollster: That’s why she can’t get above 46-47 percent in the polls, just in case you’re stumped.
In fact, Detroit would be a good place to start since Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has already broken the ice for Republican candidates in the inner city. Republican candidates are making a big mistake if they think they should write off black voters in urban areas that no longer have police services to protect their families, and even have to cut public grass themselves. While it may seem to defy conventional political wisdom, I submit these rich, D.C.-based Republican consultants who have never stepped foot inside these city neighborhoods aren’t wise to voters, black or white, at all.
So, that’s enough free advise for the Land camp. Until we see something concrete, we are moving this race back to “Leans Democrat” from the previous “Toss-Up” rating on our 2014 Senate Map.
|Poll||Date||Sample||MoE||Peters (D)||Land (R)||Spread|
|PPD Average||6/26 – 7/15||—||—||42.3||36.5||Peters +5.8|
|EPIC-MRA||7/12 – 7/15||600 LV||4.0||45||36||Peters +9|
|Vanguard/Denno Research (D)||7/9 – 7/11||600 LV||4.0||40||37||Peters +3|
|NBC News/Marist||7/7 – 7/10||870 RV||3.3||43||37||Peters +6|
|PPP (D)||6/26 – 6/29||578 RV||4.1||41||36||Peters +5|
|Magellan Strategies (R)||6/5 – 6/8||753 LV||3.6||50||41||Peters +9|
|Mitchell Research||6/6 – 6/6||961 LV||3.2||45||42||Peters +3|
|Detroit News||5/20 – 5/22||600 LV||4.0||40||35||Peters +5|
|EPIC-MRA||5/17 – 5/20||600 LV||4.0||44||38||Peters +6|
|CEA/Hickman Analytics (D)||4/24 – 4/30||502 LV||4.4||42||37||Peters +5|
|Magellan Strategies (R)||4/14 – 4/15||875 LV||3.3||46||41||Peters +5|
|Mitchell Research||4/9 – 4/9||1460 LV||2.6||38||44||Land +6|
|PPP (D)||4/3 – 4/6||825 RV||3.4||41||36||Peters +5|
|MRG (R)||3/24 – 3/28||600 LV||4.1||38||40||Land +2|
|LE&A/Denno Research (D)||3/9 – 3/10||600 LV||4.0||40||37||Peters +3|
|EPIC-MRA||2/5 – 2/11||600 LV||4.0||38||41||Land +3|
|Rasmussen Reports||1/14 – 1/15||500 LV||4.5||35||37||Land +2|
|Harper (R)||1/7 – 1/8||1004 LV||3.1||36||44||Land +8|
|PPP (D)||12/5 – 12/8||1034 RV||3.0||40||42||Land +2|
|LE&A/Denno Research (D)||11/12 – 11/14||600 LV||4.0||37||36||Peters +1|
|Inside Michigan Politics||10/29 – 10/29||794 LV||4.0||43||38||Peters +5|