Dems Spend Big to Hold Deep Blue Michigan

Competitive race siphons money away from red state Dems

Gary Peters
Gary Peters / AP

National Democrats and liberal outside spending groups are dumping money into Michigan, as nominee Rep. Gary Peters has failed to take a commanding lead in the normally safe Democratic state.

Peters, a three-term congressman, has received a $70,000 boost from national Democrats in coordinated expenditures through July. That’s about $55,000 more than the DSCC gave Sen. Debbie Stabenow when she beat incumbent Republican Sen. Spencer Abraham in 2000 and $25,000 more than it gave Stabenow in 2012. The DSCC spent no money in Michigan when retiring Sen. Carl Levin won re-election in 2008.

The DSCC isn’t the only national Democratic group spending money in Michigan to defend a once-safe seat. Outside groups have spent more than $5 million in the state thus far, according to the Sunlight Foundation, with the vast majority of that money going to aid Peters. Liberal special interests accounted for $4.2 million in outside spending through July.

The Michigan race could help determine the Senate majority for the remaining two years of the Obama administration. A close-run race by Republican Terri Lynn Land could help the GOP capture a majority in the upper chamber even if she loses, according to one Republican strategist.

Democrats are fighting to defend seats in conservative states, such as North Carolina, Alaska, Louisiana, West Virginia, and Arkansas, as well as swing states, such as Iowa and Colorado. Every dollar that national Democrats spend in a Democratic stronghold, such as Michigan, is a dollar that is not being spent defending vulnerable incumbents.

"Michigan has been most recently a Democratic Senate seat and if Terri Lynn Land puts it in play, as she’s doing, then that undercuts the Democrats’ ability to spend elsewhere," the strategist said. "Democrats are forced to prioritize and when you choose to put money in one state and not another, it affects both races—that’s the place where Republicans are going to make gains."

The onslaught of outside spending comes as no surprise. Although Peters has outspent Land throughout the race, the Republican has consistently outraised him. Land, Michigan’s former secretary of state, has a $1 million cash advantage going into the campaign’s closing months.

Prof. Gary Wolfram, a political scientist at Hillsdale College, said that the influx of national Democratic Party money demonstrates that the race is a lot closer than many political spectators acknowledge.

"Democrats know that this race is going to be close. In the absence of spending it may not even be close. We’ve elected Republican governors and she’s already won two statewide races," Wolfram said.

Land’s tenure as secretary of state gives her a key advantage over Peters in the race: her previous statewide election victories boost her name recognition among voters.

Democrats have ramped up their spending to not just attack Land, but to boost awareness of the Democratic brand, Wolfram said.

Radical environmentalists at the League of Conservation Voters and public sector union heavyweight AFSCME announced last week that they will pool their resources together to elect Peters. The groups are planning a $2.1 million get out the vote operation aimed at bringing in more than 50,000 Democratic votes.

"Without outside money I don’t think Gary Peters would be able to either attack her or get enough money to get his name ID up," Wolfram said.

Peters received an early boost from Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid’s super PAC, which spent millions on attack ads in the spring and early summer, but his early lead has diminished of late. Land trails Peters by just 1 percent, according to the only two polls taken in August. Carl Levin (Mich.) won his 2008 race by 30 points and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) won nearly 60 percent of the vote in 2012

The election is scheduled for Nov. 4.