Wednesday, December 06, 2006

MI-07 -- 2006

This post should have come a few weeks ago. It's far from comprehensive, and the way I look at the data isn't perfect. That said, it shows real gains made by Democrats, and the potential for more gains-- and victory-- in 2008.

In 2004, the Republican nominee (Joe Schwarz) emerged from a tough and nasty primary with a slight plurality, while the Democratic nominee (Sharon Renier) surprised observers by winning a majority of votes with little money in a largely ignored primary. The Republican went on to win in November 58-36 (plus minor party candidates).

In 2006, the Republican nominee (Tim Walberg) emerged from a tough and nasty primary with a slight majority, while the Democratic nominee (Sharon Renier) surprised observers by winning a majority of votes with little money in a largely ignored primary. The Republican went on to win in November 51-46 (plus minor party candidates).

What happened between 2004 and 2006?

The Numbers

In both years, the 7th District race was largely overshadowed by an up-ticket, big-spending race-- Bush versus Kerry in 2004, and Granholm versus DeVos in 2006.

Below are the Schwarz-Renier and Walberg-Renier race results for each county, 2004 and 2006 (I've omitted minor party candidates for simplicity-- see below). Also included the 2004 presidential and 2006 gubernatorial results. Italics indicate that the winning party for that county changed.


Schwarz - 10,554 - 62%
Renier - 5,487 - 32%

Bush - 10,784 - 60%
Kerry - 7,004 - 39%

Walberg - 7,744 - 56%
Renier - 5,572 - 40%

DeVos - 7,248 - 50%
Granholm - 6,901 - 48%


Schwarz - 35,557 - 61%
Renier - 20,368 - 35%

Bush - 32,093 - 51%
Kerry - 29,891 - 48%

Walberg - 18,930 - 45%
Renier - 21,257 - 51%

DeVos - 19,726 - 42%
Granholm - 26,670 - 57%


Schwarz - 31,600 - 60%
Renier - 19,087 - 36%

Bush - 29,781 - 53%
Kerry - 25,411 - 46%

Walberg - 21,133 - 48%
Renier - 22,105 - 50%

DeVos - 18,975 - 41%
Granholm - 26,608 - 58%


Schwarz - 10,785 - 60%
Renier - 5,227 - 29%

Bush - 12,804 - 64%
Kerry - 7,123 - 35%

Walberg - 9,798 - 64%
Renier - 5,000 - 33%

DeVos - 9,005 - 57%
Granholm - 6,408 - 41%


Schwarz - 39,007 - 58%
Renier - 24,736 - 36%

Bush - 40,029 - 56%
Kerry - 31,025 - 43%

Walberg - 28,138 - 51%
Renier - 25,280 - 46%

DeVos - 27,534 - 48%
Granholm - 28,450 - 50%


Schwarz - 22,837 - 53%
Renier - 16,726 - 39%

Bush - 25,675 - 55%
Kerry - 20,787 - 44%

Walberg - 19,036 - 56%
Renier - 14,344 - 42%

DeVos - 17,641 - 51%
Granholm - 16,502 - 47%


Schwarz - 25,713 - 57%
Renier - 17,896 - 39%

Walberg - 17,861 - 47%
Renier - 19,065 - 50%

*Part of Calhoun County is in the 6th District. However, as the vast majority of the county is in the 7th, and no major population centers are in the excluded section, full presidential and gubernatorial data are included.
**Only the western portion of Washtenaw County is in the 7th District. The rest is in the 15th District, represented by Rep. John Dingell. Only the congressional results have been included.

Sharon Renier made gains in every county, picking up anywhere from 3 to 16 percent of the vote, in Lenawee and Calhoun Counties, respectively. Perhaps worth noting is the fact that her smallest gain was in Walberg's home county and her largest gain was in Joe Schwarz's home county. In 2006, Renier won three of the counties of the district, having lost all of them to Schwarz two years earlier. Walberg's percentage of the vote was thus lower than Schwarz's in all but two counties (Lenawee and Hillsdale, where 2004 had strong minor party candidates).

However, Renier was not the only Democrat to make gains in a "Democratic Year." Nationally, Democrats took the House and Senate, as well as picking up six new governorships. In Michigan, Democrats took the state House and narrowed the gap in the state Senate, and re-elected a Democratic governor by 14 points. Were Renier's gains just Granholm coattails?

In both years, Sharon Renier underperformed when compared to the top of the ticket. Yet, the average difference between Kerry and Renier in each county (except Washtenaw) was 8 percent, a difference that narrowed to 6.5 percent between Granholm and Renier. Renier wasn't merely being carried by Granholm and other Democrats-- other factors were in play, whether they were Renier's campaign successes or Walberg's campaign blunders. Given the considerable difference in campaign funding-- Renier's final FEC report showed only $39,000 raised, compared to Walberg's $1,000,000+ -- Renier performed incredibly well.

Perhaps most striking, however, is Jackson County. In both 2004 and 2006, it proved to be the bellwether, accurately reflecting the Democratic and Republican percentages in both elections. Birthplace of the Republican Party, this is the center of the district and the most populous county. Renier showed considerable strength, but still finished four points behind Granholm. This was the only county that Granholm carried and Renier did not. It also included other significant Democratic gains-- two state House Republican incumbents were defeated by Democratic challengers in Jackson County. (For what it's worth, the Renier campaign blamed

What Does This Mean?

Unfortunately, there's no easy answer that I see. If Renier had picked up four or five percent more, she would have won (or been close enough for a recount). Such voters could have been gotten-- after all, they did vote for Governor Granholm over Dick DeVos. That said, she certainly wasn't just a weak candidate, being carried by Granholm's momentum. Her message was genuine (if unpolished, at times), and despite poor funding and little support, she reached a lot of people.

Nor can everything be attributed to Tim Walberg. He's certainly a weak candidate that alienates moderates, but he's got an (R) next to his name, and old habits die hard in a district like this one. Despite hopes to the contrary, plenty of Schwarz Republicans stayed with Walberg. Had Renier been nothing more than a "sacrificial lamb" candidate, she might have received a bump in support, but not much more.

In short, Sharon Renier was a legitimate (if not the strongest possible) candidate, yet Tim Walberg, despite alienating many moderates, still has a loyal base.

The sequence of events that made this race competitive were unlikely, and there's no one factor which shaped the race. Still, it's a race that can be won in 2008.


great writeup!!

that being said, while I liked renier, i don't know if i'd want to see her run again.
Renier just had no name recognition. And she had no governmental experience at all. That really hurt. If Mark Schauer runs in 2008, he wins. Walberg will not gain any friends the next two years. He was an atrocious legislator and will be a terrible Congressman.
Nice work, Fitzy! I never met Renier in person, but I agree with Nirmal. She seemed like a nice enough lady, but I don't think she's the best person to put us over the top in the 7th in 2008.

Keep up the great work!
Renier was in her 3rd run for office, raised no money and changed her position on a reproductive choice. She failed to reach out to any of the active democrats in the district and it apprears she is not a dues paying member of the democratic party. Her drop off from Granholm was consistently 1,400 - 3,000 votes, less than half of which went to Walberg. You don't show the drop-off in Washtenaw, who's western end is trending democratic. You might like her but she is not credible as a congressional candidate.
I was wrong. I fully expected the DNC to descend on the 7th to help take out an easy target like Walberg, but it never happened. Sharon was a weak candidate and they had other fish to fry.

I think part of the problem also is that Michigan just doesn't matter anymore, we've lost too much of our industrial base, unions have killed us and our economy is in the dumpers. We're fickle as voters and we've got the government we deserve.

Sorry to be so negative, but I find it hard to reason why Michigan matters anymore in the Big picture of things. We matter even less with someone like Walberg. 2008 will be here soon and hopefully things will improve and Walberg will be back in his imaginary pulpit.
unions have killed us? Who the hell are you kidding. Think any salaried employee of Ford would be getting severence or retiree health care without a union? Unions helped make the middle class, Walberg and the 'tax cuts' at all costs crowd have been selling out all working families to push thier ideology.
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