Opinion

Dems are getting nervous about 2022 — for good reason 

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What you're not about to read is not scientific. This didn't come from some university or eggheaded think tank. This is just an observation, after covering Michigan politics for more than 20 years. 

Every two years, when either the president or governor's seat is up for election, Democrats have more candidates file for office. Much of it is Detroit candidate enthusiasm — I've seen as many as 15 run for a single House seat. 

But regardless, Democrats fielded more candidates on Michigan ballots for statewide office every election cycle since 2000. 

Except one time. In 2010, 401 of the state-level candidates were Republicans and 388 were Democrats.  

If you remember, the Democrats got smoked in 2010. They lost all of the top state races. The state House went from a 67-37 Democratic majority to a 67-37 Republican majority. Democrats went down to 12 seats in the state Senate, giving the Republicans a supermajority, allowing them to make any new law take effect immediately. 

To show this wasn't an anomaly, consider this: 

 — Even when Republicans kept the number of state-level candidates close, they did well. In 2002, they won everything but the governor's seat. Democrats had 328 candidates that year to the Republicans' 303.  

 — In 2014, when Gov. Rick Snyder & All His GOP Friends won reelection, Republicans had 304 candidates on the ballot to the Democrats' 305. 

 — When Democrats are doing well, their margin of candidates is huge. In 2008, the best Democratic year in the past 20, they had 408 people run for office. The Republicans had 300. 

In short, there's a direct link between partisan people interested in running and voters interested in casting a ballot for a candidate of a specific political party. It speaks to the voter enthusiasm. 

Who is excited about the coming election? Who is itching to get involved? Who is engaged in politics? 

Candidates have until April 19 to file, but at this point, things don't look good for the D's. As of 2 p.m. April 12, Republicans have 253 candidates having filed for state-level office. The Democrats have 204. 

If Democrats aren't nervous about 2022, they should be. 

President Joe Biden's poll numbers in Michigan are terrible. In January 66% gave him a negative job approval rating. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer did a little better with only a 52% negative ranking, but her numbers are under water, too. 

Every cycle, pollster Richard Czuba of the Glengariff Group gauges the critical question of "voter enthusiasm."  

If surveyors are not talking to the voters excited about showing up to vote results will be off. 

This go around, Czuba said solid Republicans and solid Democrats are highly motivated at this stage in the game. Where things get "a little soft" is with leaning Democrats. 

Leaning Democrats showed up in mass in 2020 to deliver Michigan for Biden despite Republican Donald Trump having 370,309 more votes in '20 than in '16. 

Last year in Virginia and New Jersey, these soft Democrats didn't show up and Democratic nominees up and down the ballot got shellacked or significantly underperformed. 

A March 28 analysis by progressive-minded Change Research concluded that in 2022 gubernatorial elections, a projected higher turnout "will be driven largely by Republican voters who didn't vote in 2018." (Remember, Michigan Democrats like Whitmer did pretty well that year). 

"If Democrats run the same campaigns the same way this year as they ran them last year, we will lose across the country," reads the Change Research commentary. 

Democrats need to expand the electorate by promoting Whitmer’s successes, the analysis reads. 

That may explain why all of Whitmer's media availabilities in the last two to three weeks have all been at completed road projects and why she stopped talking about COVID months ago. 

New, blacktopped roads is only going to do so much to jolt these soft Democrats back into action. Could the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and a full-scale abortion ban in Michigan be that jolt? 

Progressives probably don't want to find out. But in a perverse way, maybe they do. 

(Email Kyle Melinn of the Capitol news service MIRS at melinnky@gmail.com.) 

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