Michigan Capitol graphic using Susan J. Demas photo
Michiganders are heading to the polls to make their voices heard on who will be governor, who will represent them in Congress and whether ballot proposals should pass on Nov. 8. But races taking place for dozens of state Senate and House seats could prove just as consequential.
Party control is up for grabs in both chambers. The outcomes of these elections could give either the Democrats or Republicans a political trifecta or provide a check on the governor.
The party that controls the House and Senate leads state budget negotiations, decides which bills will get hearings in committees and what legislation will be brought up on the floor for a vote.
Going into the election, Republicans have an advantage in the House of 57-53 seats and a 22-16 lead in the Senate.
Democrats have not held a majority in the state Senate since 1984 and have not controlled the House since 2010.
But this is the first election with new district lines drawn by the new Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission voters established in 2018. Political analysts tell the Advance this has shaken up districts and made more of them competitive than they have been in years.
“There’s going to be a lot of competitive races in new districts,” said Jonathan Hanson, a political scientist and lecturer at the University of Michigan. “I find that lack of predictability very refreshing. … I’m just ready to see what happens.”
The outcome of the top-of-the ticket race between Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Republican Tudor Dixon also could sway these down-ballot races, according to Matt Grossman, a political science professor at Michigan State University.
“There are extremely strong associations between voting for president for governor and state Legislature,” Grossman said. “Everything matters there. So spending matters, door-knocking matters. Any other kind of voter contact matters. And candidate quality or candidate characteristics can matter.”
Other drivers of this election will be issues like abortion, inflation and jobs, according to Sen. Curtis Hertel (D-East Lansing).
“The caucus feels like we’re in very good shape going forward,” Hertel said. “There are a lot of important seats that I think are important… there are a lot of seats, I think the majority will come down to close elections.”
House Speaker Jason Wentworth (R-Farwell) said the Republican committee has “put together a great team that hit the ground running from day one, so I always knew we’d be in a strong position at the end.”
“Our caucus has done a ton of work raising funds, knocking doors and recruiting winning candidates,” Wentworth said in a press release this month. “I’m proud of the effort we’ve put in. Now we just need to finish the job, spread our winning message and get out the vote in November.”
There are at least 35 state legislative candidates running in Michigan this year who have denied, in various ways, the results of the 2020 election that former President Donald Trump lost to President Joe Biden. However, many of the Republicans running in the most competitive races have stayed away from the issue.
Several Republican candidates also have been avoiding the issue of abortion rights following the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, in spite of their anti-abortion records.
Here are 10 of the most hotly contested Michigan House and Senate races in this year’s election cycle.
- 11th Senate District
One of the most competitive races is between state Sen. Michael MacDonald (R-Macomb Twp.) and Democratic Macomb County Commissioner Veronica Klinefelt.
While MacDonald technically retains the incumbent advantage, political strategists said it will still remain an uphill battle due to how the new lines have been drawn. The district that MacDonald won four years ago included nearly all of Macomb County, and now includes a segment of Detroit, which is heavily Democratic.
- 12th Senate District
Right down the road, a race between state Rep. Kevin Hertel (D-St. Clair Shores) and Rep. Pamela Hornberger (R-Chesterfield) is also one to watch. The Democrat is Curtis Hertel’s brother.
The district encompasses the shoreline of St. Clair Shores and includes segments of St. Clair, Macomb and Wayne counties. Kevin Hertel currently represents the 18th House District, which encompasses Eastpointe and a segment of Grosse Pointe Shores. Hornberger currently represents the 32nd District, which is made up of New Baltimore and sections of Memphis and Richmond townships.
While the southern parts of St. Clair County and Chesterfield and Harrison townships are considered Republican strongholds, Hertel has made significant strides to making it a competitive district. Hertel has outraised Hornberger and has been outperforming in recent polls, according to Democratic strategist Adrian Hemond.
“It’s two very high-quality candidates that are both current elected officials in different parts of the senate district,” Hemond said. “That one’s going to be really hotly contested.”
- 9th Senate District
This toss-up race is taking place between former Rep. Michael Webber (R-Rochester Hills) and Rep. Padma Kuppa (D-Troy). The district is home to Troy, a solidly Democratic city and Rochester and Rochester Hills, which have become more Democratic. In 2020, Rochester voted for President Joe Biden, Republican U.S. Senate candidate John James, U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Lansing) and Republican state Rep. Mark Tisdel (R-Rochester Hills).
But the district is also home to Republican strongholds like Shelby and Oakland townships. Sterling Heights is also becoming increasingly Republican.
Kuppa has represented Troy since first winning the House seat in 2018. Currently, Kuppa has out-fundraised Webber.
Webber, having previously represented much of the district before being term-limited, does have a lot of name recognition and is seen as a more moderate Republican, according to Dennis Darnoi, a Republican strategist.
“He is someone who, while conservative, while Republican, certainly has the ability to speak to Democrats,” Darnoi said. “[Webber] having been in that community for a very long time, has a good name and can’t really be defined by the Democrats.”
But the issue of abortion could play a key role in this race. Webber has sponsored anti-abortion legislation and is endorsed by Right to Life of Michigan. But during this campaign, he has not taken a stance on Proposal 3, which would enshrine abortion rights in the Constitution. Kuppa supports abortion rights.
- 30th Senate District
Looking toward the West side of the state, another competitive race is taking place between state Sen. Mark Huizenga (R-Walker) and state Rep. David LaGrand (D-Grand Rapids).
The district is home to northern Grand Rapids and includes Ada, Allendale Township, Belmont, Cascade, Coopersville, Comstock Park, Forest Hills, Grand Rapids Township, Marne, Plainfield Township, Polkton Township, Rockford, Standale, Walker and Wright.
The entire district is slightly Republican-leaning. Republican strongholds are within Ottawa County and there are solid Democratic areas in northern Grand Rapids and segments of Grand Rapids Township.
This is a race where top-of-ticket races and fundraising could play key roles, according to Hemond. As it stands, LaGrand has a fundraising advantage over Huizenga. Hemond also noted that since the district encompasses much of the 3rd Congressional District, the contest between Republican John Gibbs and Democrat Hillary Scholten could help dictate the winner of this state Senate race.
- 35th Senate District
This race between Rep. Annette Glenn (R-Midland) and Democratic Bay City Commissioner Kristen McDonald Rivet in the district encompassing Bay County, Midland County and Saginaw County also is competitive.
The district currently has a Democratic tilt, with the new district leaving out rural areas across the three counties. Midland is a Republican stronghold, Saginaw is a solid Democratic county and Bay County has been shifting Republican.
- 29th House District
This race between state Rep. Alex Garza (D-Taylor) and Republican James DeSana is one of the most competitive this election cycle. While Garza is the Democratic incumbent, redistricting has made the district more competitive and it is also an area that former President Donald Trump won in 2016 and 2020.
Portions of the district, like Taylor, still are reliably Democratic, but Downriver and Monroe County are solid Republican territories. Overall, the entire area is moving more to the right, according to Hemond.
- 38th House District
Looking toward the Lake Michigan shoreline, one of the biggest toss-up races is taking place between Democrat Joey Andrews, a policy analyst for the AFL-CIO from St. Joseph, and Republican Kevin Whiteford, a CPA at Whiteford Wealth Management Inc. and investment adviser from South Haven whose wife is state Rep. Mary Whiteford (R-Casco Twp.)
The race will come down to the wire because of the split between coastal and non-coastal voters, according to Hemond. Those further from the coast tend to be white, working-class non-college-educated voters leaning Republican, while those close to the coast tend to be more affluent and vote Democratic, Hemond said.
- 54th House District
Democrat Shadia Martini, an immigrant from Syria with an M.B.A. from the University of Michigan who lives in Bloomfield Township, is going up against Republican Orion Township Trustee Donni Steele for this open seat.
Martini has campaigned on supporting abortion rights. Steele opposes abortion rights and Proposal 3 and has been endorsed by Right to Life of Michigan. Steele is focused on the economy, education and crime.
Darnoi said that Steele is seen as a traditional Republican, and that could be helpful in this election when trying to speak to center and left-leaning voters.
- 55th House District
State Rep. Mark Tisdel (R-Rochester Hills) is facing Democrat Patricia Bernard. This district encompasses Rochester Hills, Rochester and a segment of Oakland Township.
The biggest driver of the results of this election could be abortion rights, analysts said. Women’s rights was a key reason Bernard decided to run for the House seat and she backs abortion rights.
Tisdel is against abortion rights, has been endorsed by Right to Life of Michigan and has said he does not endorse Proposal 3. But Tisdel has said he doesn’t support a 1931 Michigan law outlawing abortion that’s currently on hold amid court challenges.
- 103rd House District
This race up north between state Rep. Jack O’Malley (R-Lake Ann) and Democratic Grand Traverse County Commissioner Betsy Coffia could be another nail-biter.
The newly drawn district includes Benzie, Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties. According to Hemond, the Old Mission Peninsula, Traverse City and Garfield Township have been trending more Democratic — posing a threat to O’Malley.
In 2020, O’Malley signed onto legal efforts to block election certification in Michigan and other states in an attempt to overturn Biden’s win.
Abortion has loomed large in the race, with O’Malley, who has an anti-abortion voting record, losing his Right to Life of Michigan endorsement for telling some voters he would support some exceptions for abortion. Coffia backs abortion rights and has made it a focus of her campaign.
This is Coffia’s fourth time vying for a House seat, but she has raised a large swath of campaign dollars to put up a fight against O’Malley.
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