House Republicans just got their first potentially dangerous open seat today. Rep. Pete Hoekstra of MI-02 is set to announce that he will not seek a 10th term in 2010.
This could be the prelude of a gubernatorial run, but Hoekstra has said that he will not decide until early 2009 whether to launch a statewide run. Michigan’s gubernatorial election is sure to be one of the hottest battles of the 2010 cycle: Democratic incumbent Jennifer Granholm is term-limited and both parties have enough of a bench to make this race competitive.
MI-02 is a Republican district, but one Democrats have an outside shot at contesting. It will all depend on whether Obama’s 16% victory was an aberration or a lasting return to the state’s Democratic roots: George Bush crushed John Kerry in the district with 60% of the vote, but John McCain’s share was reduced to 51%.
This suggests that Republicans start this race with a very clear upper-hand but that Democrats have a shot at an upset if they find the right candidate and if the political environment is favorable.
The problem for Democrats is that they have a thin bench in the district, and it is unlikely that the political environment will be as favorable in 2010 as it was in 2006 and 2008, when Democrats managed to expand the map to most open seats, no matter how red they were. The potential good news is that this development could help Democrats to dilute MI-02’s redness in the next round of redistricting (if they control the legislature and governorship): Michigan is set to lose a seat in the next decade, and the most junior incumbents are usually the ones whose districts are transformed the most.
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson is not up for re-election until 2012, but she is preparing to run for Governor and considering resigning in the coming months, potentially sparking a special election.
Texas Democrats have not won any statewide race since 1994 and it will be difficult for them to make even an open seat competitive. But two of the party’s strongest potential candidates are already preparing to jump in the race - before Hutchinson even officially announces her intentions!
The first is former state Comptroller John Sharp, who served from 1991 to 1998 and then lost two races for lieutenant governor in 1998 and 2002. (That Sharp is considered among the strongest candidates Democrats have to offer is a sign of how weak the Democratic bench is.) Earlier this week, Sharp issued a press release declaring that “I will be a candidate whether the election is in 2012 or any time before then.”
The second is Houston Mayor Bill White. The Houston Chronicle reported at the end of this week that “White has decided to seek the U.S. Senate seat held by Kay Bailey Hutchinson, should the two-term Republican resign next year to challenge the sitting governor.” The Chronicle added that White could hold a press conference announcing his intentions as early as next week. (White has long eyed the governor’s mansion, but it would be political suicide for him to jump in that race as he would be an overwhelming underdog no matter his general election opponent - Perry or Hutchinson.)
Republicans have to be considered the favorites to hold on to this seat, but Democrats look like they will be able to put up a fight.