Even the Democratic candidate’s pollster calls it a “long shot,” but progressive groups are pouring money into the Michigan 6th District in the final weeks of the campaign, hoping to score an unexpected — and still very unlikely — upset of House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI).
They have quite a climb to push Democratic candidate Paul Clements past Upton, who heads one of the more powerful committees in the House and has represented the district since 1987. Earlier this month, Clements pollster David Beattie found Upton leading, 50 percent to 35 percent. The race had narrowed ever so slightly since August, when Upton was up 57 percent to 37 percent, but it is still a huge gap to close in the last month of a campaign.
“Yeah, it’s a long shot, but it’s not a long shot about changing the electorate. It is about picking up voters already supporting a Democrat in the Senate race,” Beattie told TPM. The district voted for President Barack Obama in 2008 and he lost by only one point in 2012. It also supports Democratic Senate candidate Gary Peters in his race, 50 percent to 38 percent, earlier this month, according to Beattie’s polling.
So there are voters who will back Democrats to be won, and Upton does have some liabilities: 67 percent of voters say that he is a “typical politician” and 51 percent say that he “has become more partisan and political.” Those would be the people that Clements, who is still working on his name recognition, needs to pick up.
There is just a touch of smoke — Upton’s people have reportedly been calling and berating donors to a big-money group that is pouring money into the race in a last-ditch effort to boost Clements, a Western Michigan University professor, to a shocking win over one of the longest-tenured House Republicans.
Since Oct. 9, MayDay PAC — Harvard professor Larry Lessig’s super PAC to outlaw super PACs — has spent $1.2 million on a TV advertising buy and more than $150,000 on direct mailers to attack Upton, according to the group’s filings with the Federal Election Commission.
“If we’re going to reform the way campaigns are funded, we need to stand up to kingpin politicians at the heart of corruption,” Lessig wrote in announcing the group’s entry into the race. “We need to make an example of them to show that we, the people, want our democracy back.”
Other liberal groups have gotten into the mix. They have been seizing in particular on a Huffington Post report that Upton and a top aide have been calling MayDay PAC’s donors in Silicon Valley to complain about their support for the group now working to oust him. The report suggested that the complaints were “spooking Mayday’s donors, who worry their companies will get rougher treatment” from Upton’s committee.
Last week Upton told a local editorial board: “I do know some of the folks that funded the PAC and, as I’ve talked to them, they are, or they were under the illusion that this was a group that was trying to focus on dysfunction and taking it out, getting people that can work together. And the people that I’ve talked to, some of them have put six figures into this PAC. They are really ashamed. They are distraught. They said they were taken for a ride. It’s too late. They bought the stuff and it came out of the blue.”
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee slammed Upton over the Huffington Post report and the American Democracy Legal Fund, a new spinoff in Media Matters founder David Brock’s empire, filed an ethics complaint against Upton on Wednesday.
Clements needs that outside support because the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has not been active in the race. In fact, the DCCC abandoned all the other Michigan races where it was spending TV money earlier this month, according to the Detroit Free Press. A top DCCC official didn’t respond to TPM’s inquiries about the race, but Michigan Democrats aren’t happy about the committee’s lack of involvement.
The 6th District is “the most Democratic seat in Michigan that’s held by a Republican,” Mark Miller, the Michigan Democratic Party’s district chair, told National Journal. “Why the DCCC has been unwilling to invest in this district is perplexing.”
If you squint, there is some evidence that the Upton campaign is taking the Clements challenge seriously. First, there is the Huffington Post report about MayDay donors being assailed. Upton has also spent nearly $1 million in TV ads since September, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Those close to the Upton campaign said that the congressman remains confident he will win, however, and campaign manager Tom Wilbur told TPM that they were unfazed by MayDay diving into the race.
“In today’s political climate, you have to anticipate that anything could happen,” he said. “These nasty partisan PAC’s have become part of the political calculus, so we were prepared for something like this to happen.”
If Clements is to have a chance — still a gargantuan “if” — he needs the independents who make the 6th a swing district in higher-ticket races like president and senator to come his way. That is where the MayDay money should come in handy. The group can attack Upton while Clements spends whatever money he has left — he’s raised about $700,000 — in a last-minute dash to introduce himself to voters.
“With the time we have left, it’s all communicating to introduce Clements,”
Beattie said. “For us, the torpedoes have been launched. Everything else is going into that.”