In divided Michigan, campaigns begin anew, seven months after last election
- Democrats announce six-figure ad buy in swing districts
- Former Gov. Rick Snyder will play key role in fundraising for House Republican candidates
- Control of the Michigan House a crucial target for both parties in 2024
Just seven months after the last election, the brief respite from political ads may be over for residents of swing districts in Michigan.
On Tuesday, the Michigan Democratic Party announced a six-figure ad purchase targeting six southeast Michigan Republican representatives in competitive seats in 2024. Meanwhile, the House Republican Campaign Committee tapped former Gov. Rick Snyder to help lead fundraising efforts for the caucus along with Kalamazoo businessman Bill Parfet.
The early jockeying underscores the Democrats’ tenuous hold on the state House — where they have a 56-54 majority — and rush to target officeholders who may be vulnerable, experts say.
Democrats regained control of the Legislature for the first time in nearly 40 years in November.
“Both sides still have to unpack all the things that have happened in the first four or five months of the year,” said John Sellek, a Republican strategist and founder of public affairs firm Harbor Strategic.
The biggest headliner is Snyder, who served as governor from 2011 to 2019, and his re-entry into politics after fallout from the Flint water crisis.
He was charged with two misdemeanors of neglect of duty after leaving office over contamination of Flint municipal water that began when state-appointed officials switched the water supply. Those charges dismissed by the Michigan Court of Appeals in March.
Borrowing from his campaign slogan while in office, Snyder said House Republicans are taking “relentless positive action” and would “help provide the leadership our state deserves” if they win back the majority.
“In business and in government, good leaders act boldly to accomplish a vision and achieve real, measurable results for those they serve,” Snyder said.
An Ann Arbor businessman, Snyder sought to avoid politicking during his two terms as governor and broke from his party in 2020 by publicly backing Joe Biden for president.
Then-President Donald Trump responded to the slight by calling Snyder a “disaster” and “very bad governor.”
Snyder is returning “in a far more overtly political fashion than he ever embraced as governor,” and has the opportunity to become a party builder for Republicans, Sellek said.
Snyder’s advocacy comes as the Democratic-majority Legislature has worked to overturn many of the former governor’s policies — most notably Right-to-Work, a law that allowed workers to receive union-negotiated benefits without paying union dues.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is a key fundraiser for House Democrats, Sellek said, so recruiting Snyder is a “smart move” to counteract sluggish fundraising by the Michigan Republican Party, now led by former Secretary of State candidate Kristina Karamo.
“The House is absolutely the best opportunity for anybody who wants to help reestablish the GOP in Lansing, giving them some kind of beachhead to operate from in the next cycle,” Sellek said.
Both Republican and Democratic House campaign caucuses have put up big fundraising numbers and are essentially neck-and-neck, per the latest reports.
In the first quarter of 2023, House Democrats reported having $1.3 million in total contributions and $1.2 million in cash on hand, while House Republicans announced $1.26 million in contributions and $1.35 million on hand.
Republicans claimed their total contributions exceeded those of Democrats, though, saying some of the reported Democratic contributions were refunds of planned media spending.
Democrats, meanwhile, are using their ad buys to highlight what they have done since taking power and call attention to Republicans’ voting records, party spokesperson Andrew Feldman said.
“This is about holding these representatives accountable and making sure that we're beating that drum over and over again between now and Election Day 2024,” he said. “We’re going to focus on the issues that voters have made clear that they care about.”
Democrats are focusing their initial ad buy on six metro Detroit Republican incumbents — Reps. Donni Steele, Mark Tisdel, Jamie Thompson, Jim DeSana, Tom Kuhn, and Alicia St. Germaine — to “hold them accountable” for opposing gun reforms in a county that in 2021 saw a school shooting at Oxford High School.
“In launching this campaign, we are making it clear to Michiganders in these districts exactly what their representatives did, who they stood with, and who they turned their backs on,” Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes said in a statement.
This year, following mass shootings at Oxford and Michigan State University, Democrats passed three major gun restrictions that Whitmer signed:
- A red flag law that allows police, relatives and mental health professionals to petition judges for extreme risk protection orders to remove guns from those who are deemed a danger to themselves or others.
- Universal background checks closing a loophole in federal law that allow those buying rifles or shotguns to avoid background checks.
- A safe storage law requiring gun owners with minor children at home to keep weapons in safes or locked containers or keep them unloaded with a trigger lock.
Editor's note: This story was changed at 1:58 p.m. Tuesday to reflect that Republicans targeted by Democrats represent areas of southeast Michigan, not exclusively Oakland County.
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