What can Dems pick up?

By Kyle Melinn
Lon Johnson

Michigan Democratic Party chairman puts 8th Congressional District in play

Friday, May 17 — The chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party considers the 8th Congressional District an “absolutely winnable race” for Democrats regardless of whether seven-term U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Howell, runs for the U.S. Senate in 2014 or is tapped to run the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Lon Johnson, speaking on “City Pulse Newsmakers” this week, said with U.S. Senate candidate Gary Peters and likely gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer setting the atmosphere for “creating the Michigan we want,” a Democrat in a “47 percent” Dem-base district like the 8th can win.

Target Insyght says the new 8th — which consists of Ingham, Livingston and northern Oakland counties — has a 54 percent Republican base.

“This is a seat we should fight for,” Johnson said. “Michigan is a Democratic state by five to nine points, evidenced by Obama’s election. He never came here, had little staff, spent nearly no money. And it was (Mitt) Romney’s home state.”

“We have greater shared values with the voters than Republicans do,” Johnson said. “That tells me a number of things. One, when we fight everywhere, we win. Frankly, if you’re just a betting man, the odds kick in. Two, we want to engage in a values debate, a branding debate. D versus R, we win. Values. Straight values debate, we win. We need to do that statewide.”

Johnson also mentioned the northern Michigan-based 1st Congressional District, the Eaton County/southern Michigan-based 7th and the Oakland/western Wayne counties 11th as potential pick-up for the Dems.

“We have no shortage of targets here,” he said in referring to the congressional races.

During the program, which will air 10 a.m. Sunday on MyTV 18, Johnson said that more than 400 people responded to a blanket email sent to activists for potential candidates in 2014. Party officials are in the process of slotting “every single name” in potential races, be it state Senate or drain commissioner.

The MDP is starting with the state’s 25 most populated counties. Once its finished with those, it’ll move to the next larger counties.

“It’s so important to have Democrats up and down the ticket,” he said. “There’s nothing more immediate and long-lasting that I can do as chair as to bring new people in running — new people bringing new ideas, new ways of doing business and new money.”

Johnson counted 4,500 Democratic elected positions across the state. He said his goal is to increase that to 5,500.

Electing these Democrats means reaching out to the million identified Ds who didn’t vote in 2010, Johnson said. That means starting early and talking to them about the issues they care about. So far, the interest seems to be there, he said.

At the MDP’s first get-out-the-vote meeting for the 2014 campaign on the east side of Detroit, Johnson was prepared to host a dozen “diehards.” Instead, 70 people showed up.

Johnson said he is sensing enthusiasm within Democratic constituencies. Whether it’s cutting education by $1 billion to pay for a business tax cut, changing course on Right to Work or weakening environmental protections, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder is motivating Democrats.

“There is not one constituency in Michigan that hasn’t paid a price for this governor’s unwillingness or inability to create compromise to move Michigan forward.”

A challenge for the party is to engage the African-American community in the off-year elections by starting to get them involved early, Johnson said. In the Republican wave election of 2010, the African-American community made up 10 percent of the electorate, compared to 13 percent in 2008 and 16 percent in 2012, when President Barack Obama was on the ballot.

The MDP has an opportunity to do a “dry run” in Election Day operations and increased absentee voting participation during this year’s municipal elections in Detroit, Johnson said.

Johnson said the party also plans on doing a better job reaching out to constituencies that tend to support Democratic causes about giving to the party and why a contribution is money well spent on a party that shares their values.

Among the values Johnson is talking about is investing in public education, not taxing pensions and not putting “big business” first. Even on the taxing issue, Johnson is ready to put up Snyder’s record of raising taxes on seniors and homeowners while now pushing a higher gas rate against the Democrats’ record of fighting against all of those things.

Same-sex marriage could also become a winning issue for Democrats. With news this week of the Glengariff poll that 57 percent of Michigan voters support gay marriage, Johnson said the MDP is going to look how it may be able to use this issue in ‘14.

In his 24 years in politics, Johnson said he’s never seen such a rapid increase in support for an issue like what he’s seen in the case of same-sex couples wanting the same legal rights and protections as opposite-sex couples.

“Discrimination is discrimination,” Johnson said. “The more that people are exposed and understand what is at stake with gay marriage or other rights toward LGBT issues, they see the right side to fall is equal rights.”

Johnson said he had a good meeting with former MDP Chair,am Mark Brewer after the election, but he hasn’t spoken to him since. He said he hopes Brewer stays engaged and will let the Macomb County attorney decide how he wants to stay a part in the party if he wants.