Was there a ‘Blue Wave’ in Michigan?

Like many of you I was excited about last night and I believed by taking the U.S. House the ‘blue wave’ had come. Then, we started to lose some seats we should’ve won then I realized, there was no ‘blue wave’, it was just a political re-alignment.

Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer addresses supporters during a campaign stop, Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018, in Detroit. Carlos Osorio AP Photo

*Disclaimer: I think in Michigan we did really well comparatively to the rest of the nation and had some really big wins I am just being overly critical for the sake of pointing out what we did wrong and need to do differently in 2020 if we want to take the majority*

I have so many thoughts and raw feelings that I want to try and process from the election because while Democrats preformed really well on a broad spectrum, they fell flat in proving we are a brand that can compete in some more red areas that we once dominated. This really concerns me because if this election was truly a referendum on Trump, it was very soft one.


Debbie Stabenow: So, Debbie Stabenow won, which is great, but she was supposed to win by at least a 55–45% margin and it was close. Why this is concerning if you look back at her previous elections, she won she swept the heartland farm country of Michigan. In 2012 for example she outpaced Obama in Michigan by an impressive amount in some deep red counties that went blue for her and very few of them did this time around. This is an extremely important trend that I’ll get back to later.

Gretchen Whitmer: She ran an amazing and seeming flawless campaign the last 3 months after the primary while Bill Schutte’s campaign fell apart and just shockingly disintegrated over that same time. Whitmer over performed so much so that she was able to carry some closer races — like the AG race — over the line and helped us to make some major gains in the State House and the State Senate (where we no longer have a super minority).

Slotkin (MI-08) and Stevens (MI-11): Shout out to everyone on those teams because these races were solid-likely R from the start and they were able to do the impossible and flip both of those seats from red to blue and toss an incumbent. What is significant about both of their races is the urban rural divide I was highlighting with Stabenow, areas like MI-8 and MI-11 should just be blue, but we needed some momentum and some good candidates, and we had good momentum and absolutely astounding candidates. Democrats have taken back the suburbs where their new expanded base is, but are getting killed in the rural areas, which I’ll get back to.

The State Senate:

We picked up a good number of seats but there are some important bellwether races. I can't be too critical here because while we *COULD* have taken the majority we would have had to do most things right in every district. So, with that being said, we did decently in picking up some seats and taking us out of the SUPER minority, but we should have done better.

Winnie Brinks (Grand Rapids) Sean McCann (Kalamazoo) — this is a good example of MI-11 it should’ve been blue, but we just needed a great candidate to run. These races prove we can win cities in West Michigan that have very rural surroundings and a very pronounced rural-urban divide. Going forward I think these candidates are going to be a model for Democrats on how to do well in other similar parts of Michigan.

Dayna Polehanki (Plymouth) and Mallory McMorrow (Royal Oak) — This is another great example where you have great candidates take back the suburban districts that realistically should just be blue now. They are strong woman with great stories and they were able to topple some extremely tough opponents, and this is a precursor on where Democrats are going in Michigan.

Scott Dianda (UP) and Phil Phelps (Saginaw) — these are almost like a West Virginia-ish type areas (more so the UP) where to win you must be a super rural working class-union Democrat. Scott won his state house seat 3x and every year the R President or Governor carried it by double digits and he managed to win…but on Tuesday he got beat here decently. These areas are important to note with the Stabenow pattern where Democrats can and can’t compete anymore and it’s a scary trend. Both were rock solid candidates and they couldn’t overcome the barriers.

The State House:

We also had some major gains but there are some bellwether races that will shape Michigan going forward. We should have taken the State House this year and the fact we did not shows we need to do a lot more reflecting.

Mari Manoogian (Birmingham), Rachel Hood (Grand Rapids), Matt Koleszar (Plymouth), Laurie Pohutsky (Livonia) — Again these are districts that are in the suburbs that we just dominated and in most of them outright flipped from incumbents. Our new home is the suburbs and thanks to some amazing candidates and their teams they were able to crush those races.

Tayna Cabala (Whitehall), Michell LaVoy (Monroe), Kristen Brown (Mt. Pleasant), and Ken Summers (UP) — These areas are the suburbs meet the rural divide and historically we’ve done well here. Democrats have done pretty well here over the 15 years up until the past 1–3 elections there have been trouble. We lost all 3 of these districts, and I think are the precursor to the fact that we have lost the rural-working class districts in Michigan and across the nation.

Jim Haadsma (Battle Creek) — This one is worth pointing out because it completely defies the logic of the previous four. Maybe it is just faster changing demographics, but this one is defiantly one Democrats should look at when deciding their strategy moving forward.

Why all of this is significant:

I promised I would get back to it with Debbie Stabenow’s results. We got KILLED in rural Michigan Democrats have been losing their base consistently there and this year it looks like it has finally reached the tipping point. In 2010 and 2014 Republicans didn’t sweep Democrats per se, they just won the urban districts that should’ve been there’s based on how things are trending and why it seemed like a huge loss was because they ALSO kept the suburban districts during this time period while we weren’t able to make any headway there.

The problem: 1) the urban-rural divide has turned into the urban vs rural divide for resources and attention. 2) Democrats are unable to distinguish themselves from the negativity of the National Democratic Party anymore.

Looking Forward

Democrats are in some serious trouble going forward because to get a majority to MUST win some of these rural districts so at the state and national level democrats need to keep finding ways to reinvent themselves because the conventional process isn’t working because red state Dems are all but extinct.

The result of this election is there was no ‘blue wave’ just simply a political re-alignment. Democrats found their new base and they need to dissect that to build a winning strategy, but it’s not going to be an easy road forward because this election was supposed to be a referendum on Trump and if this is the ‘toughest’ referendum Democrats can give then they should be worried.

The Darrin Camilleri Model:

The biggest wins for Democrats in flipped districts (excluding West Michigan) were where they were progressive, younger, more diverse, and/or have an education background. These candidates are relatable, first time candidates, and exciting and because of this they are able to energize their bases because they are something new and different and can breathe new energy into their district. The party needs to focus on these types of districts and candidates when making their 2020 battle plan to take back the house because these candidates are the future of this state and nation.