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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Michigan’s Senate hopes an uphill fight

Michigan Republican Senate hopeful Terri Lynn Land  (AP Photo/David Eggert)
Michigan Republican Senate hopeful Terri Lynn Land
(AP Photo/David Eggert)

Not so long ago, Republicans were giddy about winning U.S. Senate control in part by picking up a prized seat in Michigan held for more than three decades by a retiring Democratic lion, Sen. Carl Levin.

They had good reason. Michigan voters had given the GOP control of the statehouse and governor’s office, and conservative organizations prepared to deluge the state’s airwaves. But as midterm elections loom, the optimism has become a salvage operation for the GOP candidate, Terri Lynn Land.

On the surface, she might have seemed an ideal Republican candidate. Pro-business, Land has won statewide office twice, as secretary of state. But she has been tripped up by lackluster public appearances, polling concerns and dwindling outside financial support.

“She hasn’t made a strong impression,” said Bob LaBrant, a Republican and former chief lobbyist for the GOP-heavy Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which endorsed Land.

The situation in Michigan seems to underscore the difference in skill sets between those required for campaigning, and those needed for governing.

“She’d make a better senator than she does a campaigner,” Jackson County GOP committee member Leland Prebble said after a small Republican reception for Land last week. “Peters is a better campaigner.”

U.S. Rep. Gary Peters is no runaway favorite. But the three-term Democratic congressman from suburban Detroit has led Land in nearly every reliable public opinion poll since April.

Well-known within the party having risen through its ranks, Land has not often put herself in front of large audiences of undecided voters, as the state’s moderate Republican governor Rick Snyder has in his quest for a second term.

On a bus tour through southern and western Michigan last week, she met with small groups of supporters and businesses, before addressing the Republican faithful in her home region of Kent County in GOP-heavy western Michigan.

In May, Land walked away from a gaggle of reporters when pressed on her position on the auto industry bailout, after giving a lackluster speech to influential business and political leaders on Mackinac Island, and ultimately did not answer.

Two weeks ago, she spoke from prepared notes and used a teleprompter to give her speech to the Michigan Republican Convention. In contrast, Snyder strode on stage with a microphone in hand instead of notes.

Examination of television advertisement spending in the race shows that Land drew $14 million in outside group spending to assist her through June, but that it has dropped off sharply since. That’s forced Land to spend more of her own personal wealth to fill the void until the fall campaign.

And now, with just two months until Election Day, outside groups that endorsed her are putting far less behind her effort. Some are moving their campaign investments to other races.

Senate Republicans need to gain six seats to assume the majority. They feel the goal remains within their grasp, given five Democratic retiring veterans, including Levin. But a number of moves by outside groups suggest Michigan has fallen as a GOP priority, unlike Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana and North Carolina.

And despite American Crossroads reserving $800,000 in advertising for a week in September, Peters and allied groups are on pace to vastly outspend Land in the race’s final weeks.

Americans for Prosperity, the flagship group of billionaire conservative brothers Charles and David Koch, stopped advertising for Land this summer, after spending $5.1 million in ads supporting her through June, but describing the race as “an uphill climb.”

Likewise, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which endorsed Land, ran $400,000 in ads, but has not since June.

The most recent red flag for Land came last month when Freedom Partners, a group associated with the Kochs, canceled an $878,000 ad purchase that was to run in Michigan throughout August.

“There is a high interest in return on investment,” James Davis of Freedom Partners said. “We make decisions based on the most effective use for each dollar at that time.”

Since then, Americans for Prosperity, for instance, has reinforced its advertising presence in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado and Louisiana Senate races.

Land, who has already contributed more than $3 million of her own, declined to say if she’ll be forced to spend more of her own money to keep up.

“You need to invest what you’re capable of,” Land said in an Associated Press interview in Marshall. “We’re going to work hard and do that.”

Hesitant to say so publicly, some Michigan and national GOP officials say Land was not their first choice. They tried recruiting U.S. Reps. Mike Rogers or Dave Camp, after Land put her name forward last year.

Land told supporters during a campaign trip to small businesses, farms, campaign offices and small groups of supporters that the race would be close, and that she would gut it out with their help.

“A lot can stop Michigan from being in play, but we’ve made it in play,” Land told about 60 campaign supporters and volunteers in Ann Arbor last Tuesday.

Land zipped from curb to curb down the parade route in Romeo shaking hands, smiling and waving in the Labor Day sun during the picturesque southeast Michigan’s annual Peach Festival parade.

But she can also come across as businesslike at times in a pursuit that requires a certain amount of interpersonal comfort with strangers.

“I think she could use a little more eloquence,” Dan Valascho, a Republican Land supporter from Grosse Isle said. “But that’s hard to teach.”


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