Most of the swing states of the 2014 Senate campaign have stayed on a stable trajectory through the campaign. Yes, there has been movement towards the Democrats in some races such as North Carolina and the Republicans in others such as Colorado, but the map has remained consistent. One state, though, was competitive at the beginning of the campaign and has become completely uncompetitive: Michigan.
Republican Terri Lynn Land has run arguably the worst campaign of 2014. Avoiding the press and creating awful campaign advertisements, Land — who faces Rep. Gary Peters, a Democrat — now just has a 3 percent chance of winning in the latest FiveThirtyEight Senate forecast. Compare that to the 45 percent chance we gave her in our March prediction.
Land is just the latest in a line of Republican candidates for national or statewide office in Michigan who have faded in seemingly winnable races during the final months and weeks of the campaign. Michigan is the Republicans’ version of Lucy and the football.
In early October 2000, Republican Sen. Spencer Abraham looked set to knock off Democratic Rep. Debbie Stabenow. He had a 54 percent favorable rating, and three polls taken around October 10 had Abraham ahead by 10 to 17 percentage points. But Abraham faltered during the final month of the campaign under an advertising blitz. Thanks in part to heavy union turnout, Stabenow defeated Abraham on election day, 49.5 percent to 47.9 percent.
Six years later, Republican Dick DeVos rode a wave of early advertising to jump ahead of incumbent Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm by an average of 2.8 percentage points in polls taken from May to early August. DeVos’s problem: It was an anti-Republican year because of the unpopularity of President George W. Bush. Granholm’s campaign exploited DeVos’s party label and she ended up running away with the election 56.4 percent to 42.4 percent.
Then, in the 2012 general election, Republican Mitt Romney looked like he might make a play for the state. He trailed President Obama by only 2 percentage points in an average of June polls. By comparison, Obama led by an average of 5 percentage points in the ultimate swing state of Ohio during the same period. Once again, the closeness of the race in Michigan turned out to be a mirage. The state reverted to its naturally Democratic form, as Obama won 54.0 to 44.6 percent.
These examples don’t prove that Republicans can’t win major statewide office in Michigan. After all, Republican Rick Snyder won the governor’s mansion in 2010, though he is in trouble in 2014. Overall, though, there is a recent history of Republicans in the Wolverine State looking like they had a real chance of winning before falling short, as Land probably will in 2014.