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Michigan Legislature is up for grabs: These are races to watch on Election Day

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Michigan’s redistricting process opened the door for Democrats to potentially make gains in the state Legislature. (Shutterstock)

Nov. 11: Tough year for incumbents: Nine Michigan legislators tossed out by voters

The fight over control of the Michigan Legislature may be more competitive — and expensive — than ever.

All 38 seats in the Senate and 110 in the House are up for grabs at Tuesday’s general election. Republicans have controlled both chambers since 2010, and they have led the Senate since the 1980s.

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Currently, Republicans hold a 22-16 majority in the state Senate and a 56-53 majority in the House.

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New political district maps drawn by a newly created independent redistricting commission have given Democrats a shot at winning the Senate, according to voting patterns of the last few elections.

The new maps lean Republican 56-54 in the House, while Democrats are favored 20-18 in the Senate, based on a Bridge Michigan analysis of recent presidential elections.

“There is the very real belief that we, for the first time since 1984, have a chance to take control of the state Senate,” said Kristen McDonald Rivet, the Democratic candidate in the competitive 35th Senate District covering Midland, Saginaw and Bay City. 

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, recently told Bridge he has “100 percent confidence we’re going to retain the majority,” but noted Republicans are having to “work harder this time than we have in probably 35 years.”

Democrats have a chance to flip the House as well, but that’s a tougher task, analysts say.

“The Democrats have got to defend seats that they've currently got, and they've got to play offense to get there,” said Democratic strategist Adrian Hemond of Grassroots Midwest. “It's not impossible, but I'm very skeptical that they can get all the way to 56.”

Should the Senate result in a 19-19 tie, the party that wins the governor’s race also makes a difference, as the lieutenant governor presides over the Senate and can cast tie-breaking votes.

Analysts for Sabato’s Crystal Ball have ranked both the Michigan House and Senate as toss-ups, citing the new political district maps, heavy spending and “clear Democratic momentum up and down the ballot in Michigan.”

Michigan was leading the nation in ad spending for state legislative candidates in October, clocking in at nearly $30 million, according to the research firm AdImpact.

And money continued to pour in during the final stretch before Election Day. Democrats initially had a fundraising advantage in many key races, giving candidates a head start in advertising.

But Republican candidates have kept pace. In several House races, they entered the last week of the election with more cash to burn than their opponents. 

Recent campaign finance postings show 63 House Republican candidates had more cash on hand last week than their Democratic challengers, compared to 47 Democrats. Twenty Senate Democratic candidates had more money than their Republican opponents. 

Not every legislative district is competitive, of course, as certain regions of the state tilt heavily to one party. But new political districts, as well as shifting political sentiments, have created several tossup districts around the state that will determine which party will hold the gavel. 

Here are a few areas of the state that could determine which party controls the Legislature:

Suburban Detroit

Several districts incorporating portions of the metro Detroit suburbs are crucial.

In the 11th Senate District, incumbent Sen. Michael MacDonald, R-Macomb Township, faces Macomb County Commissioner Veronica Klinefelt, D-Eastpointe. The district is far more competitive than the one MacDonald now represents and includes a portion of the city of Detroit, which is heavily Democratic. 

Both parties have poured big money into the Macomb County-based 12th Senate District, where incumbent Reps. Kevin Hertel, D-St. Clair Shores, and Pamela Hornberger, R-Chesterfield Township, are facing off.

In Oakland County, voters have shifted Democratic in recent cycles, making contests like the 9th Senate District race between former Rep. Michael Webber, R-Rochester Hills, and Rep. Padma Kuppa, D-Troy, an election to watch. 

Another is the 55th House District, where incumbent Rep. Mark Tisdel, R-Rochester Hills, faces Patricia Bernard, D-Rochester Hills.

The Downriver suburbs of Detroit are also becoming more conservative, prompting a competitive in the 4th Senate District between term-limited state Rep. Darrin Camirelli, D-Trenton, and Houston James, R-Flat Rock.

Kent County

Voters in several west Michigan communities are seeing more competitive races, notably in Grand Rapids and in shoreline districts long advocated for by Democrats in the region.

The 30th Senate District pits two state lawmakers, Sen. Mark Huizenga, R-Walker, and David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids. Although the area has typically been a Republican stronghold, Democrats have made gains in recent elections.

State House races in Kent County should be similarly interesting, including the 81st House District, where state Rep. Rachel Hood, D-Grand Rapids, faces former state Rep. Lynn Afendoulis, R-Grand Rapids Township, and the 84th House District, where state Rep. Carol Glanville, D-Walker, seeks to keep her seat after winning an upset in a special election. She faces ​​Republican Mike Milanowski.

Mid-Michigan

One big change to Michigan’s existing political maps was to draw the Republican-leaning city of Midland in the same state Senate seat as Democratic-leaning Saginaw and Bay City. 

The resulting 35th Senate District pits Rep. Annette Glenn, R-Midland, against Democratic Bay City Commissioner Kristen McDonald Rivet and has become key to determining Senate majority control.

Bay and Saginaw counties, as well as neighboring Genesee County, have trended Republican in recent elections, although Democrats still have deep roots in the region. U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, is up for re-election in one of four congressional districts that could be competitive this year.

House incumbents Timothy Beson, R-Bay City, and David Martin, R-Davison — both of whom flipped seats previously held by Democrats — have out-raised their respective opponents Kim Coonan, D-Bay City, and Cheri Hardmon, D-Grand Blanc.

Up North

Overall, northern Michigan is solidly Republican, barring a few Democratic hotspots. But redistricting and shifting political winds could tip the scales in two of Michigan’s most hotly contested state House seats.

Incumbent Rep. Jack O’Malley, R-Lake Ann, found himself in one of the most hotly-contested legislative races in the state against Betsy Coffia, D-Traverse City, after redistricting created the new 103rd House District with a nearly 50-50 split between Republican and Democratic voters. 

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As in many races up and down the ticket, abortion has become a key issue. Over the course of the campaign, O’Malley lost his Right to Life endorsement after concluding there should be some exceptions to abortion bans other than the life of the mother, according to the political newsletter MIRS. 

The 103rd is the most expensive House race in the state, as of mid-October, with more than $500,000 in spending.

Another race to watch is the open 109th House District, pitting Jenn Hill, D-Marquette, against Melody Wagner, R-Gwinn. The Marquette-based district is the only Democratic-leaning district in the Upper Peninsula. State Rep. Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette, is term-limited.

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