Election Handicapper, Handicap Thyself

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 1 2014 12:02 PM

Election Handicapper, Handicap Thyself

Before Bruce Braley decided it was a good idea to deride possible Senate Judiciary chairman Chuck Grassley as "an Iowa farmer who never went to law school," the race for Michigan's open seat had been seen as the softest piece of blue turf. Democrats have not lost a Senate race in Michigan since 1994, and the party has become so effective at the federal level that Michigan-born Mitt Romney only pulled 44.6 percent of the vote in his 2012 run. But there's always falloff in midterms; Rep. Gary Peters, the Democratic candidate, is deeply unexciting; Terri Lynn Land, the former two-term secretary of state, lapped Peters in fundraising and passed him in early polling, as the Democrat changed up campaign managers.

That's distracted pundits from the way Land got into the race (as the "eh, good enough" candidate when stronger candidates took a pass), and started them describing her as a "strong" contender.

"The Republicans also have an apparently strong candidate with former secretary of state Terry Lynn Land" (sic), writes Ben Highton at WaPo's Monkey Cage blog.

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"Republicans will have an excellent candidate in Terri Lynn Land, the former secretary of state," writes Nate Silver in his (unjustly) infamous Senate preview. "She comes from the old guard of moderate Michigan Republicans, instead of the tea party wing that might have preferred a candidate like Rep. Justin Amash."

True, but are we defining "excellence" down? Democrats are crowing today about a clip from Lansing TV, in which a reporter informs his audience of how Land limited questions and passed on a Crimea query because an aide told her to wrap it up. Print reporters were no kinder.

While Land declared her candidacy last summer, she has appeared reluctant to interact with the media. She participated in her first official press call with multiple reporters last week, reiterating her call to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and fielded only a handful of questions Monday before turning in her signatures.
Asked about gay marriage, Land said she believes in "traditional marriage between a man and a woman." Michigan voters "have spoken on this issue," she explained, referencing a 2004 ballot proposal but declining to say whether the issue is ripe for another look.

Now, clearly, Democrats are putting this pressure on Land because their candidate is still struggling to reclaim the usual Democratic advantage. It's not like Land is gaffe-ing all over the place, and the handicappers suggest that should be enough for a Republican to win in a year like this. How quickly we forget the 2012 race that the handicappers botched—North Dakota's Senate race, in which a fine-on-paper mainstream Republican was outhustled by an adept Democrat.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.