Although Democrat Gary Peters and Republican Terri Lynn Land were unopposed for their respective nominations for U.S. senator from Michigan last night, there was considerable interest nationwide in their contest to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Carl Levin.
In a state that last elected a Republican to the Senate in 1994, most polls have shown three-term Rep. Peters leading former Secretary of State Land by 5-to-8 percentage points among likely voters statewide. So a just-released New York Times/CBS survey proved a shocker: conservative Republican Land had pulled ahead of liberal Democrat Peters by a 48% to 47% count.
"And that's because voters are now realizing that Peters brings nothing to the table except the Obama record and excuses for what Obama has mishandled," Andrew "Rocky" Raczkowski, former state House majority leader and 2010 opponent to Peters, told Newsmax, "Also, Republicans got behind a strong candidate in Terri early on: she's a recognizable leader from her statewide campaigns, a reformer as secretary of state for eight years, and a female leader."
In a state that elected Democrats Debbie Stabenow as its first (and only) female senator in 2000 and Jennifer Granholm as its first (and only) female governor in 2002, Land is the fourth female to carry the GOP Senate banner in the last half-century, but all three previous nominees were defeated.
Her candidacy and the possibility that she might win led nationally syndicated columnist George Will to conclude: "Land represents Republicans' most effective response to Democrats' hyperventilating about the "war on women" — female candidates."
Using $1.2 million of her own money to jump-start her campaign, Land has slammed Peters for his support of Obamacare. While Peters voted for the initial Affordable Care Act in 2010 and has until late last year 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 when the Senate hopeful became one of 39 House Democrats to vote for Michigan Republican Rep. Fred Upton's bill permitting anyone who likes his or her health insurance to keep it.
"Obamacare and what is shaping up -- for now, at least -- as a national wave against the administration and the Democrats has probably been a big factor in Terri's performance in that poll," Bill Ballenger, editor of the much-respected "Inside Michigan Politics," told Newsmax, "But people -- and this includes many Republicans -- are still apprehensive about when and if she sits down to debate Peters on television. They want to know if she is ready to step up to the plate."
Ballenger was referring to a below-average performance that Land turned in on a candidates' debate at Mackinac Island while she was briefly a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor four years ago.
"Right now, she's in an excellent position because of the political circumstances in Michigan and nationally," he added, "but to close the deal and win, she needs a debate along the lines of John Kennedy's first debate against Richard Nixon in 1960 or Ronald Reagan’s only debate with Jimmy Carter in 1980."
Sharing the top of the statewide ballot with Land will be Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, hated by organized labor for signing right-to-work into law in 2012. Past Republican governors have been key players in electing Republicans to the Senate when they are facing the voters the same year. In 1966, Gov. George Romney appointed fellow Republican Robert Griffin to the Senate and then campaigned as hard for Griffin as he did for his own election. Both won handily. In 1994, Gov. John Engler campaigned so often with GOP Senate nominee Spence Abraham that one wag who has managed statewide campaigns quipped: "Why isn’t Spence running for lieutenant governor?" Again, both won.
This year, however, Snyder is not expected to oblige Land in the same manner. He has his hands full against union-fueled Democrat Mark Schauer. Whether Terri Lynn Land becomes Michigan’s first Republican senator who happens to be a woman will depend in large part on how state voters respond to national issues -- and on whether she can "step up to the plate" as a candidate.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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