MARQUETTE - Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer was in Marquette Thursday as part of a weeklong northern Michigan trip, rallying support for races expected against key Republican candidates in the 2014 elections.
"We're getting ready for 2014 generally, but then drilling down and talking about specific races," Brewer said, before an event with Marquette County Democrats Thursday night.
Brewer had visited Petoskey, Mackinaw City, St. Ignace, Manistique, Escanaba, Bruce Crossing, Ontonagon, Ironwood and Houghton earlier in the week. Stops were scheduled for Friday to round out the tour in Munising, Newberry and Sault Ste. Marie.
Brewer said Democrats are very pleased with state Rep. Scott Dianda, D-Calumet, getting elected in November, beating out freshman Republican Matt Huuki of Atlantic Mine.
"It was one of our targeted races around the state that contributed to our five seat pickup," Brewer said. "But we're really focusing on making sure that people understand he (Dianda) is going to be a Republican target next time. Make sure we get him reelected."
Brewer said Democrats are being sought to run against state Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba. No names have been announced.
"As we've been traveling, we've been asking," Brewer said. "What's he vulnerable on? What would be some good candidates? And they may not have been people who have run for office before.
"We find the best candidates are folks that are from the community and are willing to work hard. You don't have to necessarily have run before. It helps -name recognition and those sorts of things- but it's not an absolute necessity. And then we're looking for good hard working folks. They'll be willing to go door-to-door and get out and do what's necessary."
Democrats are hoping to beat state Rep. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan. A candidate search is also under way to try to unseat U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, who defeated Gary McDowell, a Rudyard Democrat, by less than 2,300 votes in the November general election.
So far, McDowell hasn't announced whether he'll run again.
"We're going to be seeing Gary on this trip," Brewer said. "It was so close last fall. He (Benishek) clearly doesn't have majority support in the district. A lot of third party votes cast there and Gary came very close."
Democrats are also looking elsewhere for potential Benishek opponents.
"One of the things we've been doing though is -we don't take sides in terms of primaries- we're openly soliciting who else is interested," Brewer said. "We had a good meeting the other day with Sharon Gray who ran unsuccessfully against McBroom last time. She's considering whether to get in the race against Benishek and there are a couple of others below the bridge that we're talking to. They don't want their names out there publicly yet, but they've expressed some interest and so we're going to sit and talk with them."
Time and reflection will ultimately determine who enters the race.
"We'll have to see. In all these campaigns it's a personal decision," Brewer said.
In addition to races for attorney general and secretary of state and Democrats are also focused on defeating Gov. Rick Snyder, saying his signing of right-to-work legislation last month -after a disputed process in the state legislature- hurt his standing with many supportive voters.
"What happened in lame duck I think really angered and fired up a lot of Democrats," Brewer said. "But even if you weren't a Democrat, I think just the process we went through with the building being closed and people being denied seats in the gallery, that has really opened people's eyes in terms of the governor."
Brewer said he thinks December marked the turning point with Snyder.
"There was increasing skepticism I think in the state that he was truly a moderate and a bipartisan because we're seeing a stream of legislation that he's signing and then we have this. Right to work was just one example," Brewer said. "One day he says right to work is not on my agenda, two days later, he's signing the bill. But that wasn't the only issue. So that has got Democrats excited as well that we think Snyder is more vulnerable than ever given the turn of things in December."
Brewer said with Snyder's right-to-work performance, voters can't trust recent statements he's made that he won't support a national Republican effort in several states to try to reconfigure electoral college vote tallying.
"You can't trust him now," Brewer said. "He'll say that, but he doesn't mean it. Look at the right to work example."
Another important question for Michigan Democrats is whether U.S. Sen. Carl Levin will seek another term. An announcement is expected soon.
"We all hope he'll run again, we Democrats. But if he doesn't there could be a big primary on both sides of the aisle and we haven't had an open Senate race in this state in 20 years," Brewer said. "That could be a huge development. Or, if he runs again, Republicans will be really scraping just to find a candidate. Same problem they had the last two times."
Brewer is running himself for re-election as state Democratic party chairman, so far without opposition.
He said his trip to northern Michigan this week was not a personal campaign trip.
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org