Saturday, December 01, 2007

The 2008 Election and Geography

Before I begin this post, I want to be clear that it's not an endorsement of Senate Minority Leader Mark Schauer. That's not a pro- or anti-Schauer statement, either, but merely a reaffirmation that I'm not endorsing anyone on this blog in the Democratic primary, because I don't want to be accused of bias one way or another. Sure, I have my personal preference, but I can and will enthusiastically support either Mark Schauer or Sharon Renier.

All of that said, right now, there's a very strong chance that Senator Schauer will be the Democratic nominee. In terms of money and name recognition, he's certainly the strongest Democrat the district has seen in the last 15 years. He's in a pretty comfortable position to win his party's nomination.

So, assuming Joe Schwarz does not run as an independent, what would a Walberg versus Schauer campaign look like? It would certainly be a contrast in ideology and a contrast in style, but there's another aspect that I'd like to look at: geography.

Here's Michigan's 7th District, with the hometowns of Congressman Walberg and Senator Schauer indicated.

Walberg-- the red dot-- is Tipton/Franklin Township, while Schauer-- the blue dot-- is Bedford Township/Battle Creek. The map above really isn't necessary, I just wanted a visual way of showing that Walberg comes from the eastern, southern part of the district and Schauer comes from the northern, western part. You all knew that already, but I like maps.

So what's the significance of that? Well, it's not just that Walberg's end of the district makes refrigerator compressors and Schauer's end makes cereal. There's a significant population difference:

The map above shows the percentage of the total 7th District voters who voted in the last presidential election year that came from each county. (I used 2004 because, like 2008, it will be a presidential election year.) For example, 19.2 percent of 7th District voters in 2004 cast their ballots in Calhoun County. The data that produced the map:

Branch - 5.6%
Calhoun - 19.2%
Eaton - 17.5%
Hillsdale - 5.9%
Jackson - 22.5%
Lenawee - 14.2%
Washtenaw - 15.0%
Again, I just really like maps.

From this, we see that Schauer is from and has a history representing the more populous parts of the district, while Walberg's strength-- primarily Lenawee County, which he represented in the state House, and the conservative southern tier of counties-- has fewer people. When we draw onto the map Senator Schauer's current Michigan Senate district, we see:

From this, we see that Senator Schauer's current district already covers nearly 40 percent of the district's voters, including Battle Creek and Jackson, the two largest cities. In 2002, he was elected with 55.1 percent, and in 2006, he was re-elected with 61.2 percent. (In 2004, John Kerry received 46.4 percent in the Senate district.)

That's not a bad base to start off with. There are a lot of voters who know Schauer's name, know the work he's done for their communities, and are used to voting for him. They know him and, based on the previous election results, they seem to like him.

So what does that mean for Schauer?

In 2006, Sharon Renier won Calhoun County, Eaton County, and Washtenaw County, while Walberg won everywhere else. Let's assume that Mark Schauer can do the same, while perhaps increasing the margin in Calhoun County (Renier's 51 percent in Calhoun County was well below Schauer's 61 percent and Granholm's 57 percent, suggesting room for improvement). Absent an enormous victory in Calhoun County (as in, >70%) or in Eaton County, the key to winning, as I pointed out about a year ago, is Jackson County.

In addition to having the largest population on my map above, Jackson County is the only county that Jennifer Granholm carried in 2006 and Sharon Renier did not. Walberg won Jackson County 51 to 46. Could Schauer do better? Let's look at that map again.

Most of Jackson County is in Schauer's Senate district, including the city of Jackson. Schauer carried the Jackson County portion of his district with 56 percent in 2006, but in 2002, he lost that portion of his district, 47.7 percent to 52.3.

So, really, what does all this mean? I really wish I could say, in big bold letters, "Schauer wins!" but I can't. There are a lot of things I haven't taken into account, but here's what it comes down to:
  • In a Schauer versus Walberg election, Schauer will probably win Calhoun, Eaton, and Washtenaw Counties. Walberg will probably win Branch, Hillsdale, and Lenawee Counties.
  • Jackson is and has been the "battleground county" and could easily go Democratic or Republican. It appears to be trending Democratic (see 2006, with Granholm, Griffin, and Simpson), but that may have been a 2006 fluke.
  • Schauer is in a good position to perform well in Jackson County, already representing most of its residents. He's a known quantity, and showed improvement from 2002 to 2006.
But there are some obvious criticisms of all that, too:
  • Presidential election years are different. More and different people come to the polls and you really can't compare them to midterm years.
  • We don't elect a member of Congress based on how many counties he wins, we elect based on the total number of votes. It's entirely possible that Schauer could win big in Calhoun County and underperform everywhere else and still win. It's also possible that Walberg could lose Jackson County but increase his margins elsewhere and make Calhoun and Eaton Counties closer and win.
So, really, it could be argued that this post is an exercise in futility, but I don't think so. Schauer has a real geographic advantage by being from the more populous part of the district, which is already slightly more Democratic than the southern and eastern parts. He has a history with the voters of all-important Jackson County, which will prove beneficial. And, like Schwarz before, he's the "local boy" in Battle Creek, which means he has a chance to build on Renier's showing in Calhoun County.

All in all, I think Schauer starts off with the geographic advantage, which may be enough to blunt Walberg's incumbency advantage. But that's just my gut feeling.

And I got to make some nice maps. So, there's that too.

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A key question to ask in all of this though -- and I did like the maps by the way -- is which candidate is going to appeal more to moderate voters. And that means Blue Dog Dem's, Independents and Socially tolerant Republicans.

Mark Schauer is a true blue liberal with a voting record ripe for parody. His support of tax increases and his questionable ethics holds very little appeal to those in the middle.

Tim Walberg is a rabid red conservative whose time in Congress has lacked distinction by any objective standard. His unyielding allegiance to CFG, his apparant lack of compassion for his own constituents -- not to mention state -- and his utter lack of meaningful involvement on issues of importance to this district makes those of a more moderate bent to speak as if we don't have a Congressman. And in many ways we don't.

So while geographic breakdown is nice, at the end of the day,this election, I suspect, will come down to who the moderates of all stripes, whether located in Calhoun, Hillsdale or Jackson, dislike the least.

And right now, like most everything else in politics these days, changes depending on the day.

--William Flynn
Some bullet points on this election:
• Walberg thought he had the 2006 sewed up after the Club For Growth bought the primary for him and he coasted for the November election. He didn’t grasp the appeal of a more ‘traditional’ Democrat like Sharon Renier who was pro gun rights and the traditional Democratic Party machine was perfectly fine losing the seat, even when a few dollars might have made the difference. No way were they going to let an ‘outsider’ win this seat so this was a win-win for Walberg and the Dem Machine. Let Walberg win and then go after him in 2008 with someone rubber stamped by the Party. Those factors and the coattails for Granholm almost led to an upset.
• Walberg isn’t going to be stupid enough to coast this time. If you look at some of his contributors in 2007, you see lots more party hacks and the usual suspects than last time. For better or worse, the entire Republican machine knows this is going to be a battle so they are going to back him financially 100% because each and every seat is going to count for control of Congress this time.
• Schauer, fully backed by the Dem Machine, has all his ducks in a row—campaign machine, funding, backing, la la la and is no fool. He’s going to be a very strong candidate and has always appealed to voters of both parties in past elections and on paper. He’s going to be a great candidate.
• However, Schauer is not going to be able to reinvent himself as a gun toting hunter who hangs with the truck driving white boys in Jackson and Lenawee county(this being said by a truck driving white boy born in Adrian who grew up in Lenawee). Not going to happen. Walberg is going to paint Schauer as one of those liberal punks who raised taxes and screwed up the Michigan budget negotiations. The blood is going to fly and soon. Mark my word.
• It’s all is going to come down to coattails. IF the Presidential race is close in Michigan (and I am guessing the Democrat is going to carry the state again), this is going to carry over to Lenawee and Jackson countries and we’ll be reading the Walberg Watch well into 2010 as the congressman wins again (though it would be fun to keep the page running after he’s tossed out of office to keep an eye on him…lol). If there is a Democratic landslide or huge victory in Michigan, which is what I am predicting, Walberg is toast.
I am a moderate. I think the candidate who appeals to moderate issues will win the general election and both of these candidates are experts at telling moderates what they want to hear, then voting as an extreme partisan. Neither of them have much in the way of accomplishments to show for the middle 60% of the population. Hardcore party-line folks love both of them and the rest of us are screwed.
Fitzy, where are the maps comparing Baghdad and Detroit??
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