Margin of Σrror

Margin of Σrror -

It Takes a Credible Candidate: Why Michigan is a More Likely Senate Flip than Iowa

Recently, I wrote a piece about the state of the 2014 races for the United States Senate. In my piece, I placed the states of Michigan and Iowa both under the category of “Open Seat Blue States.” While my categorization somewhat implies that these races are of equal competitiveness, this is not the case (or at least it no longer is the case). Due to developments over the past several weeks and months in these races, it has become clear that Michigan is somewhat more likely to flip to the Republican Party than is Iowa.

Initially, these races started out at roughly the same place; if anything, a case could have been made that Iowa was slightly more likely to flip to the GOP than was the Michigan seat. Both states featured a longtime Democratic senator who was retiring (Tom Harkin in Iowa and Carl Levin in Michigan). Both states also went for President Obama in both 2008 and 2012 (although George W. Bush won Iowa in 2004); in 2012 Mr. Obama won Iowa by a bit under 6 percent and Michigan by just over 9 percent. Furthermore, in both states, a Democratic member of Congress is running to replace the retiring senator, Gary Peters in Michigan and Bruce Braley in Iowa. Both of these Democratic members of Congress were first elected to their seats during the pro-Democratic waves of the 2000s; Braley in 2006 and Peters in 2008.

One slight difference between these two seats is the previous victory margins of the retiring incumbents. Generally, Senator Levin won reelection by a healthier victory margin than Senator Harkin. Indeed, the only time that Senator Harkin won reelection with more than 55 percent of the vote was in 2008. Overall, these results (as well as President Obama’s victory percentage in 2012) reflect the somewhat more favorable conditions for the Democratic Party in Michigan than in Iowa.

Contrary to expectations, however, it now appears that the Republican Party is in a better position to win the Michigan Senate race than they are to capture the seat in Iowa. In Iowa, potential candidate after potential candidate after potential candidate has said no to the GOP, including Representative Tom Latham (R-IA), Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey, and Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz. Even Tea Party Representative Steve King (R-IA) (who may well have ended up as an Akin-esque disaster for the party) declined to run.

The candidates left as possibilities for the Iowa GOP simply do not have the standing of the aforementioned individuals who took a pass on the race. Former US Attorney Matt Whitaker and Ex-Chief of Staff to Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) David Young are running; State Senator Joni Ernst, ex-CEO Mark Jacobs, and College Professor Sam Clovis may also make the race.

While one of these candidates may end up proving to be a strong contender, the lack of a immediately credible candidate with prior experience in electoral politics in the Iowa race speaks volumes to its likelihood of this race ultimately being truly competitive. A February PPP Poll showed Braley leading even the strong potential candidates who declined to run; one can imagine his lead would be even greater against any of the weaker options mentioned above.

In contrast, Michigan Republicans have had at least some success at recruiting a credible candidate to run for the seat of retiring Senator Carl Levin (D-MI). Last week, former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land announced she would run and Congressman Mike Rogers might still run. A Michigan PPP Poll from last week showed Peters with only a 5 percentage point lead over Land (Rogers trailed by 10). While Michigan Republicans could certainly ruin their chances of winning this seat by nominating Tea Party Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) were he to run, either Land or Rogers would be credible candidates for the seat (although Rep. Peters would still be favored over either of them).

Yet despite the fact that the Michigan seat appears to have become a more likely pick-up for the GOP, national political prognosticators continue to rate the Iowa seat as a better prospect for Republicans than Michigan. The Cook Political Report rates the Iowa seat as a Toss-Up while rating Michigan as Leaning Democratic. The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza ranks Iowa as the 8th most likely Senate seat to flip parties, while ranking Michigan as tied for 10th. Finally, the Rothenberg Political Report says that the Iowa seat is Lean Democratic and the Michigan seat is Currently Safe Democratic. (The one exception is Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball which rates both seats as Lean Democratic.)

Overall, Democrats are currently favored to retain both the Iowa and Michigan Senate seats. It is also clear at this point, however, that the GOP has a better chance to win Michigan than Iowa. While the dynamics surrounding these races may change (such as if Tom Latham were to reconsider his decision and run in Iowa), I will depart from the conventional wisdom to declare that Iowa really should be thought of as “Likely Democratic,” while Michigan should be thought of as “Lean Democratic.” The Iowa GOP’s inability to recruit a credible candidate has placed the party in a weak position to pick up a seat in the Hawkeye State. Thus, Michigan-with a credible GOP candidate in Terri Lynn Land-leaps over Iowa to become the 8th most likely seat to flip from Democratic to Republican in the next election.

[The states more likely to flip from Democratic to Republican in order are (in my opinion) South Dakota, West Virginia, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alaska, North Carolina, and Montana.]

(The title of this piece is a play on the title of Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox’s excellent book It Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don’t Run For Office.)