By most forecasts, the 2018 congressional elections, on a national level, are expected to hold the potential of a huge wave roiling the political landscape, turning some Republican red landscapes into blue ones favoring Democrats. And in some congressional races in Michigan, especially in a couple of districts in Oakland County, voters could see that trend play out as voters head into the November general election.
Technically the April filing deadline to run for Congress is still nearly two months away, but a number of factors have already energized the candidate field and a growing number of hopefuls have announced their intentions to seek their party’s nominations in the August primary to be the standard bearer for the general election.
There are a number of proven factors that observers posit for 2018. First, it's a midterm election in which the current president of the United States enjoys unusually low favorability ratings, and generally the party in power in off-year elections does not do as well. Women across the country, thanks to Trump, are galvanized to run as candidates as never before, creating what some are calling a “pink wave” in this election year. Independent voters are political wild cards, and millennials, one of the largest voting blocks, could prove a major factor if they show up at the polls in any kind of concentrated number.
In December 2017, it was widely believed that all of the factors would portend a Democratic sweep of Congress. But by early February 2018, the Democrats' advantage had declined, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey, which noted that the share of voters that wanted Democrats to win control of Congress in 2018 had shrunk to six points from 11 points in December.
Similarly, in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls, Democrats started 2017 with an advantage of almost 13 points on that question – which is now down to 6.6 percentage points. The Democrats need a net of 24 seats to gain control of the House, and the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll projects they will pick up more than 30 seats.
In Oakland County, three congressional districts – MI-8, currently held by Rep. Mike Bishop (R-Rochester); MI-9, long represented by Rep. Sander Levin (D-Royal Oak); and MI-11, held by Rep. David Trott (R-Birmingham) – reflect the political trends, from their vulnerability to be flipped from one party to another; voter anger and distrust of political parties, the “Trump factor” – the unpopularity of the President and fatigue one year later, including buyer's remorse; congressmen retiring; and the resistance movement, which was crystalized the day after Trump's inauguration with the Women's March, followed by the online Indivisible movement and a significant rise around the country of women's candidates. For some political pundits, Oakland County is being viewed as a national bellwether.
To get an early projection of what could potentially take place during the 2018 elections in Oakland, Downtown newsmagazine tapped a group of nearly two dozen political experts to look at the three congressional districts that include the publications’s distribution area of Birmingham, Bloomfield Township, Bloomfield Hills, Rochester, Rochester Hills and Oakland Township. From political science departments of three universities, we talked with professor Dave Dulio, chairman of the political science department of Oakland University, where he teaches on campaigns, elections, Congress and political parties, along with professor of public policy John Klemanski. From the University of Michigan, political science professor Richard Hall, and from Wayne State University political science professors Tim Bledsoe and Marjorie Sarbaugh-Thompson lent their expertise.
We also gathered observations from Democratic strategists, including Josh Pugh, Jill Alper and Joe DiSano, and GOP strategists Dennis Darnoi and John Truscott of Truscott Rossman. And rounding out our field of prognosticators was the editor of the Ballenger Report, Bill Ballenger, considered by many to be the dean of political analysis in Michigan.
Among the experts, there is general agreement that midterm elections generally don’t favor the party which holds the office of President. Since at least the Civil War, the party that has held the presidency has subsequently lost seats in the following midterm elections.
“It's a matter of history. Midterms are generally bad, and sometimes terrible, for the president's party in Congress,” noted OU professor Dave Dulio. “Only twice since FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt) has the president's party gained seats in the House of Representatives, and even those were minor gains.”
He further explained, “In 1938, FDR lost 71 seats in that midterm. That's the most since then. In 2010, (President) Obama and the Democrats lost 61 (seats). In 1994, (President Bill) Clinton lost 51. We can certainly have major sea change wave elections in midterms, and one of the biggest factors in the seat loss is the presidential job approval rating. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that Trump is unpopular and that means bad things for Republican candidates.”
Wayne State University political science professor Tim Bledsoe concurs. “Historically, going back a couple hundred years, the party that holds the White House typically loses seats in the midterms. Then you have a very unpopular president – his favorability rating is less than 40 percent. That is unprecedented. Beyond that, there is a special awareness amongst women that is fueling their candidacy. What we're seeing across the country is far more Democrats for Congress than we've ever seen in history, and that testifies to the energy they have – and so many more are women, to the point that there's increased political energy being found among groups that are frustrated with Trump, especially college-educated women.”
“The Trump effect is going to seriously disadvantage Republicans, because they're embracing the President with both arms, because that's what they have to do. The Republican Party is Donald Trump's party,” noted Josh Pugh, a Democratic political strategist with Lansing's Grassroots Midwest, which has strategists on both sides of the aisle.
“Trump has the worst approval rating since Gallup began polling,” said Jill Alper, Alper Strategies, a Democratic political consultant in Grosse Pointe, who noted that for most of 2017, Trump's approval rating has been hovering at 36 percent, although on February 5 it had risen to 40 percent based on perceptions of the tax bill and the stock market, prior to its turbulence. “He's hardened his base; it's uncertain if he can get it to 50 percent.” She noted that there is a growing realization among Middle America that the tax bill “is a boon for the upper classes and corporations. But the middle class feels like they were sold a bill of goods. It's a climate that people get what he says and does are disunifying.”
All of those consulted by Downtown also agreed on one other thing – what will ultimately determine the outcome of the midterm elections in 2018 is turnout.
“It all comes down to one thing: turnout. Whoever gets their people to the polls wins,” Dulio emphasized. “Turnout explains almost every election there is. In a midterm election like this one, we are lucky to have a 40 percent turnout nationwide. If we plan on 40 percent, it doesn't take a genius to see 60 percent aren't participating, which gives both sides ample opportunity to turn out more of their voters.”
Dulio's colleague at Oakland University, professor John Klemanski, also said it will come down to voter turnout. “We hear it all the time, but we hear it because it's true.”
Klemanski said that midterms tend to favor Republicans and hurt Democrats, and that if Democrats want to take congressional seats, “they are going to have to come out.”
Also of interest to local forecasters is whether congressional districts can remain Democratic or Republican, or if they can be flipped, and what factors besides turnout will determine who goes to Washington.
“The Democratic Party in Michigan has never been particularly organized or proficient at vetting or organizing candidates,” said WSU professor Marjorie Sarbaugh-Thompson, who specializes in Michigan politics. “The Republican Party has been more proficient at that. They may be able to influence those races, and not go too far off the deep end.”
While most of us look to the November election as the determining factor, often political decisions are made in the primaries, depending on the political makeup of a district, when diehard party advocates vote – and few others do. Michigan traditionally is a late primary state, with its primary the first Tuesday in August. This is where Democrats take on other Democrats, and Republicans take on other Republicans, all for the privilege of battling the winner of the other party in the November general election.
“The two open seats (M-9 and M-11) will be where people need to be more careful about going to the fringes, but the system is sort of set up for fringe candidates in the primaries,” Sarbaugh-Thompson pointed out. “The parties are losing control of the nominating process. It's become en vogue to have these amateur candidates running.”
District 11: Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Troy, Rochester Hills, Lake Angelus, West Bloomfield, Auburn Hills, Clawson, Farmington, Farmington Hills, Walled Lake, Waterford, Wixom, Novi, Northville, Canton, Plymouth, Milford, S. Lyon, Lyon Township, Highland Township
“The fun one, and the money one, hands down, is MI-11. That is the type of seat Democrats need to win if they are going to take back the House of Representatives,” said Republican strategist Dennis Darnoi.
The rambling district, which cuts a wide swath through central and western Oakland County and into part of Wayne County, was considered a plus-four Republican district, according to The Cook Political Report, an independent, non-partisan online newsletter that analyzes elections and campaigns. In September 2017, Republican David Trott, who was first elected in 2014 and re-elected in 2016, announced he would not run for a third term. Trump won the district, although Clinton won Oakland County.
“Look at 2016 – Trump won (the district) with a plurality of 49.4 percent. Trott won with 52.9 percent. It suggests a ceiling to Republican support, and makes it a very competitive seat,” said Darnoi.
Klemanski said that of the three districts, the 11th is the most likely to flip. That is for a few reasons, he noted.
“It's a slightly Republican district, but there's a lot of anger amongst voters. A Democrat could stop in,” he said, pointing out that Trump won the district by five points, which suggests a Republican has an advantage – “but there's so much anger post-Trump after he was elected, with people unhappy with his policies. The Republican candidate could have problems there.”
“Trott decided to retire. I think he saw himself as vulnerable,” Klemnaski said. “He took heat for some of his votes on Obamacare and others.” He noted that currently The Cook Report is calling it a toss-up.
Democratic strategist Joe DiSano agreed. “It absolutely could flip. It's one of the top 10 races Democrats (nationally) are looking at. It's one of the reasons Trott walked away. He didn't want to subject himself to a tough race.”
Darnoi explains that in 2013, Democrats were running six percent below Obama's total at 44 percent. “That gave us advance warning of the Republican wave in 2014,” Darnoi said. “For Trump in 2016, and elections in 2017, Republicans have been running 2.6 percent below Trump's two-party percentage total. You can say there's not that big of an unfavorability factor for Republicans – except for open seats in 2017, and in those seats, Republicans ran 5.1 percent below Trump's two-party percent total.
“What those numbers are suggesting right now is that those seats with Republicans that will be open in 2018 – those seats are ripe for Democrats to pick up,” he said. “That's why a seat like MI-11 will be so appealing to invest time, money and ground troops in, over MI-8 (Mike Bishop's seat). As more Republicans retire from Congress, there is an increasing likelihood that Democrats can take back the U.S. House.”
Democrats had already targeted Trott and the district prior to Trott's announcement, with Birmingham Seaholm graduate Haley Stephens returning home from working in the Obama administration as chief of staff on the Auto Task Force inside the Treasury Department, announcing in April 2017 that she was running to take on Trott. At the time the incumbent was facing criticism within the district for not meeting with constituents at town hall meetings or at his local office, and his repeated efforts to get rid of Obamacare.
Since then, several other Democrats have jumped on board, including Birmingham businessman and attorney Dan Haberman, who worked to ban smoking in restaurants and bars in the state, Auburn Hills state Rep. Tim Greimel, former Detroit Mayor Duggan aide Fayrouz Saad of Northville and technology businessman Suneel Gupta of Birmingham.
Trott’s retirement announcement drew an ever-growing field of Republicans hoping to go to Washington D.C.
Lena Epstein, who had co-chaired Trump's campaign for Michigan, had originally announced for the U.S. Senate against Democratic incumbent Debbie Stabenow, but apparently saw a clearer path to victory in the House 11th District, and quickly switched plans. Epstein, who has never held elective office before, calls herself a “conservative outsider” and businesswoman. She is the daughter and granddaughter of the owners of Vesco Oil Company, where she currently works and her sister runs.
Former state Rep. Rocky Raczkowski, of Farmington Hills, a staunch conservative and retired U.S. Army Reserves vet, who ran unsuccessfully for Senate against Carl Levin in 2006, and unsuccessfully for Congress in 2010 against former Representative and current Senator Gary Peters, jumped in. So did state Rep. Klint Kesto of Commerce Township, Plymouth Township Supervisor Kurt Heise, political neophyte Kristine Bonds, daughter of former tv anchorman Bill Bonds, state Sen. Mike Kowall, and former Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, also known as the ‘Accidental Congressman’ for a short term in Congress he won years ago until Trott defeated him.
Of the Democrats and Republicans who have announced their candidacy, as Downtown went to press, none of them had actually filed to run in the August primary.
“This has always been a lean Republican district,” said Republican strategist John Truscott, who used to be spokersperson for former Gov. John Engler. “There are a lot of people with a lot of money, or who can raise a lot of money, who are in this race. I think this will be a very competitive and very expensive one. It's too early to call it, to me.”
“I think the Democrats are going by the polls, not the elections, that show Trump's favorability rating isn't good,” said Bill Ballenger of The Ballenger Report. “I still believe a Republican will win in the 11th – unless the Republicans blow it and come up with a flawed nominee – for instance, Bentivolio could win the 11th, and then the Democrats might have a chance.”
“That's going to be the wild west on both sides,” said Democratic strategist Joe DiSano. “The amount of money Epstein is bringing to the table is scaring people away. She is also extremely disliked by many Republicans – she has replicated the Trump persona of abrasiveness, selection of issues, using personal money, and attacking other candidates. I believe she will be the cause of the Republican primary being the equivalent of a knife fight in a phone booth.
“It's difficult to attack a woman in politics,” DiSano continued, “although less so because she's so abrasive. And she's got the resources to attack and defend.”
Epstein, who raised $1.3 million in the last quarter's fundraising report, which ended January 31, and has given the campaign personal money totaling almost $1 million – $930,100, to be exact. She has over $1 million cash on hand. No other Republicans are even close. Kowall only announced his candidacy on February 5, so did not have a fundraising report; neither did Bentivolio or Bonds. Kesto raised $144,835 and has $100,000 on hand. Raczkowski raised $151,880 – half, $75,000, from himself. He has $141,199 on hand. Heise reported $123,650, of which $100,000 was self-funded, and he has $111,532 on hand.
On the Democratic side, Stevens has been on an almost year-long funding binge, raising $655,479 this quarter, with $464,515 on hand. She had financial competition this quarter from Gupta, who co-created the health care technology company Rise with his brother, Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN-fame, and previously worked at Groupon. Gupta raised $503,802, and has $468,205 on hand. State Rep. Tim Greimel raised $329,023, and has $285,518 cash on hand, with Saad raising $376,863. She has $250,816 on hand. Local businessman Dan Haberman raised $150,473, $50,000 which is a loan, and ended with just under $41,000 cash on hand.
“All of them have a lot of money, except Dan Haberman,” said DiSano. “If he doesn't have it, and he can't self-fund, it's not enough money to raise for him to make it. Haley Stevens, Tim Greimel and Suneel Gupta are just ‘hoovering’ up all the money. The only thing left will be loose coins in the back of the couch.”
“Haberman had very unimpressive fundraising numbers. I audibly gasped when I saw the numbers,” Pugh said. “Haley Stevens has very strong connections to Washington and the Obama administration and allies to that fundraising community. Her fundraising slowed down in the last quarter, but she has cash on hand over Greimel. She was on fire early on, and getting out early was good. Her hard work over 2017 paid off. Gupta has connections outside the area, but his lack of standing in the political base will hamper him in the Democratic primary, even with his money. Greimel – outside labor will want to get in on his behalf. Fayrouz – I don't hear her campaign doing much of anything now.
“I would posit that we will see outside money and outside Super PACs get in this race,” he continued. “Haley Stevens and Tim Greimel are impressive workers and the ones to beat. In 2016, the 11th District was the closest race in the state, despite Trott's money, and despite top-tiered races in the 1st, 2d and 8th (districts) in national targeting and money coming in – all because of Trump's unpopularity.”
“All of the candidates have a chance to win – the problem is finding out where they split up on the issues, because they all seem pretty clean, and all of the Democrats are pretty similar on the issues. They're all mainstream Democrats,” DiSano said.
On the Republican side, he pointed out, Epstein and Rocky “have the market cornered on the Trump point of view. I see the sparks flying between them. Kowall is more middle of the road. Kesto is contorting himself into a candidate he has never been before (trying to be very far right conservative) – and voters smell that and often reject it. That's a shame, because he's the nicest guy in that particular race, and he knows how to run a good race – so I'm not going to discount him.”
Darnoi believes Lena Epstein has the advantage so far, with Rocky and Kesto coming up behind her. “Those three are going to fight it out,” he said. “In my opinion, it'll be Lena and Rocky.”
On the Democratic side, he believes Greimel is someone who has run campaigns before, can tap resources, “and has helped other Democrats, so he has chips to call in.”
“Epstein feels more like an insider than she should, because of her attitude and her activity with the Trump campaign,” said Alper.
On both sides, it may end up being which candidate benefits from a contested election. “It may be Greimel (on the Democratic) side, because he may be able to look at the maps while the others carve up the district,” said Darnoi. “We may see that on both sides, where someone wins with less than 35 percent (of the vote).”
Once there is a winner on each side in the primary, it's not over. Then it's time for the general election.
“It will be expensive in the primary, and colossal in the general – to the tune of several million dollars. They will have to have major money, from interest groups and PACs on both sides,” said Wayne State's Bledsoe. “Trott overcame the lack of that by self-funding. And whoever wins in '18 will gave to fight to save it in 2020.”
District 9: Bloomfield Township, Franklin, Beverly Hills, Bingham Farms, Berkley, Royal Oak, Huntington Woods, Ferndale, Clawson, Hazel Park, Madison Heights, Pleasant Ridge, Center Line, Fraser, Eastpointe, Mt. Clemens, Roseville, Sterling Heights, St. Clair Shores, Warren
After 18 terms – 36 years – Democratic stalwart Rep. Sander Levin, 86, announced he will retire at the end of this term, opening up this district, which was once completely contained in Oakland County, but was changed significantly in the 2012 redistricting with its south and east district border spread from Roseville to Bloomfield Township. It was redistricted to maintain its Democratic advantage, with a current Democratic plus-four rating in the latest Cook Report.
“Even with an open seat, it's too much of a Democratic district” to flip, said Oakland University's Dulio, even in the Macomb County portion of the district. “Trump got the Democrats to come out and vote for him that were disaffected and felt left behind by the party – a return to the Reagan Democrats in the 1980's. They are in large measure swing voters. They voted for Trump this time, but will they next time? It depends on who the candidates are. Who can convey a message to them that resonates to them. Those folks have shown they are willing to break ranks.”
Sarbaugh-Thompson from Wayne State University said, “The 9th depends on who the Democrats run, and if the blue collar Macomb County piece dominates the Oakland County portion. Oakland County is more likely to see an anti-Trump backlash than in Macomb. There could still be a Trump outpouring in Macomb County.”
Republican strategist Truscott, disagrees. “That's always been a strong Democratic seat, and it'll likely stay that way,” he said.
“It's not the safest district in the state, but it's pretty safe,” said Josh Pugh. “Like every year, the Republicans will run a candidate – but there's not a scenario where the district will run Republican. It was drawn to be safe for congressman Levin, and it will stay safe for the Democrats until the next redistricting.”
Michigan will almost certainly lose a congressional district with the 2020 census, and in the next redistricting, it has been believed that this district will be the one to go.
“I do think it will be the district to go away,” Pugh confirmed. “I think it will be carved into the 10th, 11th and 14th.”
“It will be a competitive primary, but it will be the lowest spending general, because you don't need to spend, just to finance to get people out – a few hundred thousand dollars,” said Bledsoe. “You can just coast in November. And once you have that seat, it will be hard to defeat.”
There is only one Republican, so far, running for the 9th District, Candius Stearns of Sterling Heights, who raised $108,601, according to the last quarter's financial fundraising report, $94,500 of which she provided to her campaign. She has just over $100,000 cash on hand.
On the Democratic side, though, it could be a slug fest to get the Democratic nomination, from Sandy's son Andy Levin of Bloomfield Township, who runs an energy company and previously ran the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth; state Sen. Steven Bieda of Warren, currently the minority leader; former state Rep. Ellen Cogan Lipton, an attorney from Huntington Woods; and Martin Brook, a Birmingham attorney who was a former Bloomfield Hills Schools board member. Bieda and Lipton jumped into the race in January, and didn't file campaign finance reports for the last quarter, although word is both are out actively fundraising. Levin raised $124,569, and he has $113,920 cash on hand. Brook raised just $7,799 – $4,064 from his own pocket, and has $3,618 on hand.
“Despite the dynamic of having one woman and two men, I think it will be a two-way race between Levin and Bieda,” Pugh said. “From the point of view of the district, Ellen is from the wrong part of the district. And everything suggests that Bieda is fundraising and out there, and he is currently a legislator.”
Darnoi said this district is all about the primary, and the Democrat will coast in the general election. “There isn't enough of a Republican base – you're looking at best at a 45 percent Republican base in that seat. It's not worth the time or money, and the national party is going to be defending so many seats, so they're not going to invest in a seat like MI-9,” he noted. “For a Republican to win or compete in MI-9, they need to self-fund or pick up six percentage points in this district – and no one's heard of Candius Stearns. I've heard she's a perennial runner but a sacrificial lamb.”
He said that in 2016, Clinton, not Sanders, took the primary in both Oakland and Macomb counties, “so it would suggest that Andy Levin and the Levin name and connection would put him over Ellen Lipton in that category – with the caveat that 53 percent of the district comes from Macomb County, and that plays to Bieda's strength. To me the story of the district is turnout.”
District 8: Rochester, Rochester Hills, Clarkston, Independence Township, Lake Orion, Oxford, Brighton, Howell, E. Lansing, Lansing, Mason, Okemos, Haslett
Michigan's 8th District is all about the general election. The district, which meanders from conservative and upscale Rochester and Rochester Hills, through rural Oakland County, into Livingston County, all of which have historically been Republican. It then winds its way into Ingham County and E. Lansing and parts of Lansing, which are staunchly Democratic, home to the state capital, Michigan State University and the UAW.
Mike Bishop (R) of Rochester is the incumbent, now running for his third term as U.S. Representative, and has a long legislative history in the area – both good and bad. Prior to his congressional career, he served in the state House and then in the state Senate, including as Senate Majority Leader, in the 12th District – a seat once held by his father, Donald Bishop. Prior to running for Congress, he unsuccessfully ran as Oakland County Prosecutor. He was a staunch and early supporter of President Trump.
The last two times he ran for this seat, he faced limited Democratic challenges – but not this year. Elissa Slotkin of Holly, who grew up in Oakland County, attended Cranbrook Schools, and then Cornell University and received her masters from Columbia University before being recruited to work in the CIA. She served three tours of duty in Iraq in the intelligence community and played a leading role designing counter-ISIS strategy and the international coalition fighting in Iraq and Syria under Presidents Bush and Obama. Coming stateside, she held several positions in the Defense Department in the Obama Administration. She has said she is running for Congress in this seat because she does not feel Bishop is best representing all of the people of the district, and would not have run if former Rep. Mike Rogers was still in the seat, who she said she knew and could be reasonable and bipartisan.
In the last quarter, Slotkin outraised Bishop in fundraising, pulling in $905,569 – almost all from individuals. She put in $10,200 of that. She has $709,599 cash on hand. Bishop raised $1.1 million – but three-quarters – or $722,297, came from political action committees, or PACs, some of which are connected to committees on which he sits. He has $971,646 cash on hand. Slotkin has said she will refuse PAC money.
“Bishop already has over $700,000 in the bank, and he only spent $1.3 million total on the last race,” said University of Michigan’s Richard Hall. “Slotkin, for a challenger, is raising a lot of money. It says the Democrats are trying to compete everywhere and mobilize their financiers. They're being very effective. There are a record number of women candidates, and are closing the gender gap in individual campaign contributions – so women give to women more than men do.
“Slotkin has more individual money than PACs – which is not surprising because PACs go with incumbents, because they want influence,” and Bishop is already a known entity as he is in office, Hall continued. “They want access after the election. It's why their aggregate giving shifts (election to election). It's not all Republican to all Democratic giving, but from who they believe will win. Individuals vote, and give, by their conscience. They give to who they like.”
Michigan State University Professor Christopher E. Smith, a Democrat, is also running. He raised $57,573, and has $40,568 cash on hand.
“The real question in MI-8 is to what extent does the district include college educated woman that are ready to flip,” said Wayne State's Bledsoe. “Rochester is very ready, and has many college-educated women. It's the kind of area that could flip. I'm sure Mike Bishop is worried. Slotkin's bio could also appeal to Republicans.”
And let's not forget that Michigan's Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow represented the district from 1996 – 2000, although at that time Rochester and Rochester Hills were not part of the district, prior to her becoming senator.
“I think the Democrats have got a great candidate – at least on paper. But it's a hard district to win, and Bishop has done a great job,” said Truscott, the Republican strategist. “I think the Trump effect is going to settle down. I believe he will tone it down and it will help everyone down ticket, and it will dampen the hostility.”
DiSano, who now lives in Lansing despite growing up in Macomb County, disagrees.
“Bishop is clearly worried. I live in the district, and never received any mail, and in the last two weeks I received two pieces,” he said. “Elissa is raising money like crazy, and has a profile that will drive Mike Bishop crazy.
“Mike Bishop seems to have a problem with female opponents,” DiSano asserted. “His relationship with (former Governor) Jennifer Granholm was abysmal. But he's a savvy enough politician to recognize the danger signals of the coming blue wave. Groups like Indivisible have hounded Trott out of the race, and are now hounding Bishop.”
Indivisible, a new progressive political group founded in 2017, modeled itself after the conservative tea party, has as its goal to help ordinary citizens show resistance to the Trump administration. Their platform states: “Our mission is to fuel a progressive grassroots network of local groups to resist the Trump Agenda. In every congressional district in the country, people like you are starting local groups and leading local actions.”
Active through social media, primarily Facebook, Indivisible are vocal citizen groups opposing the administration and largely Republican lawmakers. “There are active chapters in every district in the country, and they're Facebook-based,” DiSano explained. “They wrote a manual early on last year on how to oppose your Republican congressman, and it was a masterpiece on how to effectively oppose them.
“Indivisible is primarily female. People make the mistake in thinking the Bernie Sanders people are the most effective people in politics – but only because they're the loudest,” he continued. “Indivisible has been very strategic, deliberate and effective. They've hounded Mike Bishop to the point he claims he's afraid for his safety – which is ridiculous considering it's comprised of middle aged housewives.”
If Indivisible can mobilize its followers to get to the polls next November, DiSano believes there will then be a strong turnout and a Democratic wave.
“I think Oakland County is the heartbeat of the backlash. I think you'll see a lot of Trump voters stay home, and a lot of women who have only tangentially been involved in politics show up at the polls and bring their friends,” he said. “I think it will be a factor in state legislative races in the general election, too. I think (state Sen. Marty) Knollenberg (R-Troy, Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills) will get a top-tier Democratic challenger, and also in the 12th state Senate district (Bloomfield Township, Clarkston, Lake Orion), against the winner of state Rep. Jim Tedder and state Rep. Mike McCready.”
Independent voters have helped swing the pendulum in 2008 and 2016, but to DiSano, they aren't the key to winning in 2018.
“The key is having as many suburban woman vote as possible. They thought Trump would govern as a country club Republican, like a New Yorker, who would be more well-behaved. They thought he would get things done, and he's gotten very little done. Once they think he's no different than any other politician, he's done,” he said.
“Independents don't want to identify with a party, but their thinking is actually very partisan,” Darnoi said, “so they become ticket splitters. Their engagement levels for 2018 far exceeds their engagement for 2016.”
“Independents aren't one stripe. Obama voters may live in Ann Arbor; Trump voters may be union members,” pointed out Jill Alper. “In the midterms, women usually drop off, and there's a difference between married women and single women. The highest loyalty group to Democrats after African American women are single women.”
Darnoi said an indicative bellwether of independent voters is Waterford. “It's a purple community countywide,” he said. “In 2016, Waterford went all Republican, and that is not what we've seen in the past – it had been backing Democratic Independents. It is mirroring state Senate districts.” He said Waterford would be the place to watch for more local elections, notably Oakland County races such as the 2020 county executive race, when L. Brooks Patterson is expected to retire.
The county has been turning more and more Democratic over the last decade. “If Brooks steps down in 2020, I would be very worried as a Republican,” said Darnoi. “If there is a nasty multi-Republican primary versus (county treasurer) Andy Meisner – it could be a fight, and a very expensive one. If it comes down to the mayor of Rochester Hills (Bryan Barnett), who isn't known countywide, and Andy Meisner, who is, it's going Democrat. But it still all comes down to turnout.”
Most pundits agree that as angry as women voters are, millennials are even more disenfranchised, and by both political parties.
“It's undecided if they'll vote,” Darnoi said. “Their anger extends to both sides. No one party will benefit in 2018.”
“Younger voters are less tied to identity politics, to a party – it's 'What do you stand for, what are you going to do?'” Truscott pointed out. “They're less likely to accept political slogan. They want details. The parties had better be ready to adapt to this changing mood. And the messaging has changed, particularly because of social media. In the last election, the Republican Party succeeded because of it, but before that, Obama did. It will swing back and forth.”
DiSano believes millennials are not only angry, but energized for 2018.
“They are a sizable contingent that are going to show up in the general (election) this year,” he said. “In 2016, there wasn't a lot of enthusiasm. There was a feeling that Hillary Clinton was going to roll over Trump. They're going to want to course correct.”
Millennials have surpassed baby boomers as a voting block, and are now the largest group of eligible voters. “They're not fond of either political party, but they're certainly not fond of Donald Trump and what he's done,” said Grassroot Midwest's Pugh. “There needs to be a concerted effort by the Democratic Party to tell a positive story about their candidates. Many millennials will be coming out to vote.”
“They become more substantial over time. They don't become sustained voters until they settle down,” DiSano said. “But they're the most dominant block for the next 50 years, along with Hispanic voters in the southwest. And Democrats have not provided them with much more than opposition to Trump.”
The potential of a ballot proposal to legalize marijuana on the 2018 general election ballot could bring out more millennials – but Pugh noted that Republicans have a history of pushing a powerful “no” message on ballot measures, “ and that 'no' on everything is more power than trying to explain what they're for. And the more measures that get on the ballot hurts them because when a bunch get on, it's easy for business groups to raise money to say ‘no’ on everything, whether it's redistricting reform or pot.”
According to Stanley Greenberg of Greenberg Research and Nancy Zdunkewicz of Democracy Corps, who wrote in a recent white paper, “Democrats sit at the edge of a wave thanks to the impressive vote gains among their minority base, unmarried women, millennials and women with college degrees. But the size of the wave depends on the turnout of the Rising American Electorate (minorities, millennials and unmarried woman) whose enthusiasm for voting is falling...One year into the Trump presidency, the biggest surprise that will require new strategic thinking is the pullback of white working class women from Donald Trump and the Republicans.”
Truscott puts out a cautionary note. “Parties and politicians have to be careful – voters don't want to move too rapidly in one direction or another. President Obama moved too quickly in one direction, so there's been a backlash – the Trump reaction. People have to have time to adjust. I don't know what happens to the Republican Party now. It's only been a year, and politically it's a pretty toxic environment, with nationalism and the lack of immigration. So the next election, in 2020, we'll be in a different place. But where that is, who knows.”