Why Michigan Is The One State Where Obama Will Campaign For Senate

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September 25, 2014 6:00 a.m.

President Barack Obama is mostly avoiding traveling to boost Senate Democratic candidates ahead of the November midterm elections. The one exception is Michigan, once a state Republicans furiously argued was very much a possible pickup in 2014 via former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land (R).

On Wednesday Politico reported that Obama would mostly be sitting out traveling to campaign in person for Senate Democratic candidates. The explanation is a mixture of a serious chance that Democrats could lose the control of the Senate and less than ideal poll numbers for Obama. But Michigan is different. There, Rep. Gary Peters, the Democratic nominee for Senate, increasingly has kept a lead over Land.

The TPM Polltracker average currently gives Peters a 5.5 point lead over Land.

This was not always the case. From November to February the TPM Polltracker average actually had Land leading Peters. Add to that the fact that Obama’s job approval numbers in the state are almost equal to his numbers nationally and one would think that the approach might be for Obama to skip Michigan too.

But over the last few months coverage of Land has highlighted serious weaknesses as a candidate and has lead Republicans to see Michigan as out of reach this cycle.

Earlier in August National Journal published a blistering story reporting that Republicans are “less than inspired” by Land as a candidate. National Journal noted that, despite being a popular Republican insider in the state, has struggled as a candidate for national office through weak interactions with the press, vague policy prescriptions for Michigan, and ongoing questions about her campaign finances.

Later that month, news broke that Freedom Partners, a Koch brothers-linked group, would be cutting spending in the state. The group did not give an explanation as to why it was pulling it but it likely didn’t help Land that a Rasmussen poll released around that time gave Peters a 6-point lead over Land.

As Peters has continued to retain a solid lead, Land has increasingly kept out of view of the press. It’s also unclear whether she and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R), who also is facing a challenge from former Rep. Mark Schauer, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, are willing to appear together.

“Land is running … [an] out-of-view campaign. She got off to a very bad start a Republican gathering on Mackinac island where she had a very difficult press conference, evasive,” University of Michigan political scientist Michael Traugott told TPM. “And so she hasn’t appeared in any public forums and there’s a question if she will appear at any debates.”

Democrats in Michigan say the appeal of having Obama come is that he will motivate African-American voters, especially in the Detroit area, to come to the polls as well as voters who remember the Obama administration’s role in rescuing the auto industry. Obama is expected to come sometime closer to the Nov. 4 election.

“Michigan’s economic recovery is thanks to the auto rescue that the entire Michigan delegation worked to secure with the President,” Peters campaign manager Paul Tencher told TPM in an emailed statement.

TPM did not get a response from Land’s campaign.

Obama, Traugott said, is also trying to calculate where he can do the most help among Democratic Senate candidates.

“I think the point is quite simple — that he wants to help out where he can with the minimum prospect of damage,” Traugott said.

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