Dems, GOP vie for control of Legislature; GOP has held House since 2010, Senate since 1984



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LANSING, Michigan — Democrats who need a five-seat swing to upend Republican control of the Michigan House face a number obstacles: gerrymandered districts, a financial disadvantage and historical trends favoring the GOP in a non-presidential election year.

But Rep. Brandon Dillon, who's leading House Democrats' campaign to retake power for the first time since 2010, said there are "more than enough" chances to pick up seats.

The GOP's advantage in controlling the once-a-decade redistricting process "made some of their representatives irrationally comfortable in their voting patterns," he said.

Republicans, however, like their chances to fatten a current 59-50 edge in the House, where a lone independent leans Democratic. GOP candidates are running on a "really strong record of results over the last four years," said Rep. Aric Nesbitt, head of House Republicans' campaign efforts.

The fight for House control in the Nov. 4 election will determine the ease or difficulty with which Republican Gov. Rick Snyder or Democratic challenger Mark Schauer can enact his agenda in the next Legislature.

In the Senate, the best Democrats can hope for is to chip away at Republicans' 26-12 margin, as part of an uphill strategy to win control in 2018 — when many senators won't be able to run again because of term limits. The GOP has controlled the chamber for more than 30 years.

It's the first Senate election since district boundaries were redrawn following the 2010 census, which enabled the GOP to fashion the maps to boost its electoral prospects. Democrats cut into Republicans' House majority in 2012, when President Barack Obama easily defeated Republican Mitt Romney in Michigan.

Yet voters tend to favor the opposing party in a president's sixth year, a plus for the GOP in 2014.

In the 110-seat House, there are roughly 20 competitive districts. There are about 10 competitive districts in the 38-seat Senate.

Four seats now held by Republicans are attracting the most attention in the Senate — three of them open districts in the Kalamazoo, Monroe and Saginaw areas.

The dynamics in individual legislative races vary, but the broad themes echo messages in the governor's race.

Republicans are emphasizing a track record of job creation, a lower unemployment rate, on-time budgets, fewer regulations and increased spending on roads and education, especially a preschool program for low-income 4-year-olds. Democrats are criticizing the GOP's tax overhaul that slashed business taxes and raised taxes on seniors and others, 2011 cuts in K-12 and university funding, and the Legislature's approval of a law requiring people or businesses wanting abortion insurance coverage to buy an extra policy in advance.

Democratic consultant Joe DiSano said Democrats could win the House in the right circumstances, but realistically their ceiling is probably a net gain of three or four seats. Another Democratic strategist, Adrian Hemond — a former top legislative aide whose firm helps GOP and Democratic candidates — said Republicans are bound to make it harder for Democrats by winning some of their seats.

"I wish them well," he said. "But I don't see how they get there."


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