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Michigan Senate race shifts in favor of Republican

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Michigan Republican Terri L. Land currently has the momentum in the U.S. Senate race that will decide who replaces retiring Sen. Carl Levin, a Democrat who has held the post since 1979.

Two-time Michigan secretary of state Terri Lynn Land leads U.S. Rep. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township in polls nine months ahead of elections. Peters, formally a political science professor, has represented Michigan’s 9th and 14th congressional districts respectively since 2009.

Peters was considered the odds-on favorite by political pundits early on after Land entered the race as a second-tier candidate, however, even the Detroit Press is pondering why Land “suddenly seems to have the edge” in the race for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat.

Michigan Democrats lost the governorship to Republican Rick Snyder in 2010 and more recently were jolted when Snyder signed “right-to-work” legislation into law, stunning Detroit’s union bosses who historically help to fund Democrats' campaigns. Under right-to-work laws, employees in unionized workplaces are not required to join or pay unions for the cost of “representation.”

Another issue dogging Democrats is Detroit's insolvency. Detroit is the largest American city ever to file bankruptcy and has not elected a Republican mayor in 50 years.

A poll of 600 Michigan residents by Lansing-based EPIC-MRA, conducted Feb. 5 through Tuesday, had Land ahead of Peters, 41%-38%, just within the poll’s margin of error. Perhaps more troubling for Democrats, the Cook Political Report (Washington) now considers the race a toss-up.

Democrats, who passed their unpopular healthcare act (Obamacare) in 2010, continue to suffer from its failed roll out and President Obama remains down in polls. Another hurtle for Democrats to overcome is that 2014 is a non-presidential election season, which often favors the party out of power.

Land, from Byron Center in west Michigan, handily won her elections for secretary of state in 2002 and 2006 and has $3.3 million in campaign cash. Meanwhile, Peters has raised $2.9 million. Though successful in his congressional races, Peters lost his campaign for attorney general in 2002 by 5,200 votes.

While Michigan has not elected a Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate since 1994, much has changed in the state. In an era of declining membership, unions are spending money in southern states where automakers are building plants.

For example, after a two-year campaign by the Automakers Union to unionize a new Volkswagen factory in Tennessee, workers voted 712 to 636 against the union. To boot, Volkswagen management remained neutral throughout the process – hardly a norm for U.S. automakers wanting to build plants in red states.

The Michigan race is important because it plays a key role in determining whether the Democrats or Republicans will control the U.S. Senate after this year’s elections. Of the 35 Senate seats up for grabs this year, 21 currently belong to Democrats and 10 are close races.

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