Michigan Democrats, fired up over Gov. Rick Snyder's signing of right-to-work legislation, say the Republican governor has done serious damage to his 2014 re-election chances and energized progressives in the state. While the party may be excited about its chances of knocking off Snyder, that quest could be complicated if Democratic Sen. Carl Levin chooses to retire.
Levin, 78, has yet to indicate if he will run again in 2014. If he chooses not to, Democrats would have the task of boosting two candidates' name ID statewide and playing defense on a Senate seat that would likely be safe otherwise. In addition to thinning the pool of potential gubernatorial candidates, an open Senate race could require resources that would otherwise have been solely focused on unseating Snyder.
"I think that's one of the problems you have to solve if he chooses not to run," said Democratic strategist Joe DiSano. "The state party apparatus and labor would have to split their focus."
DiSano remained bullish on Democrats' chances in both races, but Michigan GOP communications director Matt Frendewey said Levin's retirement, were it to happen this cycle, would give Democrats trouble.
"If Senator Levin retires, you'll see an already thin bench become even thinner," Frendewey said.
The split focus of two up-for-grabs races would cause a "diversion of resources and extraneous palaver that [Democrats] would rather avoid," said Inside Michigan Politics editor Bill Ballenger. "I don't know how many people there are in the Democratic ranks that have a great burning ambition that is known to succeed Carl Levin. ... The Democrats don't have a strong bench in Michigan."
Regardless of Levin's decision, DiSano said the impact on the gubernatorial primary would be minimal. "The real credible candidates for governor, I think want to be governor," DiSano said. He also said he's "seen no indication" that Levin is ready to retire. Both DiSano and Ballenger said they doubted Democrats would try to urge the Senate mainstay to run for another term, nor would Levin be susceptible to outside pressure.
So how do the potential candidates line up? DiSano said state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer is "dead-set" on running for governor and floated Rep. Gary Peters as a potential Senate nominee. "[Peters has] decided one way or another that he's going to make his mark in Washington, D.C.," DiSano said. He also mentioned former Rep. Mark Schauer as a strong Senate possibility.
Frendewey, on the other hand, said an open Senate seat would be a strong pick-up opportunity for the GOP. "I think that's a serious problem [for Democrats]," Frendewey said. "They don't have a serious congressional candidate who could run who has statewide name ID."
A lot will transpire between now and 2014, but Levin's retirement decision could have a serious ripple effect on a now-spotlighted governor's race.