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Can democrats flip the MI House of Representatives?


It’s been ten years since Democrats  had control of the Michigan House of Representatives. Now, they’re vying to win back control over the lower chamber.

In 2018, a blue wave swept Michigan’s highest offices—Governor, Attorney General, and Secretary of State. Democrats also flipped two congressional seats and made gains in the state Senate, but in the state House of Representative they came up short.

Representative Laurie Pohutsky, a Livonia Democrat, won in 2018. She says this year—holding on to her seat and picking up four others seems more realistic than the party’s goal of nine seats two years ago.

“I think the target is much more manageable, to be honest with you, even just being a candidate," Pohutsky says.

Democrat Kelly Breen ran and  for Michigan’s 38th House district in 2018 and lost. This year she thinks changes to the suburbs around Novi are working in her favor.

“All the factors that tend to favor democrats are in play here, with a diverse population, with people moving out this way," said Breen. "And then when you add on, on top of that, the horrible rhetoric that we hear, coming from the top of the chain against our own governor whose life was just threatened, literally threatened. That does not sit well with people.”

Democrats not only need to pick up four seats to gain control of the House, they also need to hold on to the seats they already have. In a presidential election year—places where Democrats won in 2018 like Livonia or Bay City—could see higher Republican turnout.

Brian Began, helped Republicans’ with redistricting in 2011. He says it’s more likely the House will be split fifty-five to fifty-five.

“Dems could like wake up and be like, how we may have lost the seat," says Began. "So, which would pretty much negate the effect of winning four seats.

But, outside groups like the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee—which back Democratic candidates in state legislatures across the country say there are on the offensive in Michigan. Jessica Post is President of the DLCC. She says President Trump is toxic in the suburbs and that’s making Democrats stronger.

“Now we’re competitive in Novi and Northvillle and places that are even further away from sot of the city center," said Post. "So, we’re not just winning sort of the inner ring suburbs we’re now ready to win sort of expanded parts of Oakland County which I think is quite exciting.”

Winning four seats won’t be enough. Democrats also need to hold onto the six seats they won in 2018.

John Lindstrom has watched the state legislature for a long time as a capitol reporter at Gongwer. He says if Joe Biden wins Michigan by six or seven points things are looking up for Democrats. But, if the win at the top of the ticket is less substantial it’s more likely Democrats could end up with a split House.

“A split House isn’t going to make things any easier for Governor Whitmer than they are now I would say," Lindstrom said. "So, if she wants to have any increased influence, she really has to hope that Democrats can take control of the House.”

That would be the second split House in 30 years in Michigan—which could mean even more gridlock at the state capitol than there already is.