The race to choose a successor to retiring Michigan Democratic Sen. Carl Levin is shaping up to be a referendum on Obamacare, giving Republicans a strong chance to pick up a Senate seat.
Eleven months before Michigan voters go to the polls to choose a successor to Levin, the major party nominees have all but been determined and their contest is considered a dead heat.
Democratic Rep. Gary Peters edged Republican National Committeewoman and former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land by a wafer-thin margin of 38 percent to 37 percent among likely voters statewide, according to a just-completed EPIC-MRA poll. Another survey among likely voters conducted by Lambert Edwards and Denno Research found near identical-results, with Peters leading Land 37 percent to 36 percent.
"Obamacare is a huge, huge issue here," Land told Newsmax last week, making little secret that the sharp differences she and Peters have on the issue will be a key part of her campaign.
Peters, who narrowly lost a race for state attorney general in 2006 and went on to win three terms in Congress, wrapped up the Democratic nomination shortly after Levin, who was first elected in 1979 and is Michigan's longest-serving senator, announced he was retiring.
While several Republican House members were being mentioned for the Senate race, Land was the only well-known figure in her party to step up to the political plate. All other major players on the GOP side declined to run as Land quickly lined up major endorsements and signed on a campaign team.
With her nomination a cinch, Land has so far raised more than $1 million and she and her husband have put another $1 million into her campaign kitty.
While Peters voted for the initial Affordable Care Act in 2010 and has until last month opposed bills to repeal, defund, or delay the controversial legislation, Land has been a consistent backer of defunding Obamacare and replacing it with one of the Republican alternative proposals in Congress.
A sign that Peters might be worried about increasing voter animosity toward Obamacare came last month, when the Senate hopeful became one of 39 House Democrats to vote for Republican Michigan Rep. Fred Upton's bill permitting anyone who likes his or her health insurance to keep it.
Although Barack Obama twice carried Michigan's electoral votes and a Republican last won a Senate seat from the Wolverine State 20 years ago, there are other factors working in favor of Land in the race for Levin's seat.
"Unemployment is 9 percent, higher than the national average," noted Land, a strong supporter of slashing government spending and cutting taxes. The conservative hopeful is expected to tie Peters' votes with the Obama agenda to the moribund economic situation in their state.
In addition, there are strong signs that Republican Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan is headed toward a comfortable re-election. Having implemented such landmark proposals as state pension reform and right-to-work, Snyder holds a lead of 44 percent to 36 percent over the likely Democratic nominee, former Rep. Mark Schauer. Although neither Snyder nor Land have confirmed it, the two are likely to run their campaigns closely together.
Older hands in Michigan told Newsmax that such a strategy has provided a boost to previous Republican Senate hopefuls. In 1966, with then-GOP Gov. George Romney headed for a big re-election, he campaigned hard with U.S. Senate candidate Robert Griffin as "Michigan's Republican Action Team."
In 1994, then-GOP Gov. John Engler was also rated a cinch for re-election and stumped so hard for Senate nominee Spence Abraham that one wag said "you'd think Spence was running for lieutenant governor." Both Griffin and Abraham won in November.
Whether a Republican governor will again help get a Republican Senate hopeful over the finish line remains to be seen. But with Obamacare likely to dominate the campaign, Republicans have high hopes for a Senate pickup in Michigan.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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