How Does Carl Levin's Retirement Impact the 2014 Cycle?

Posted: Mar 08, 2013 10:27 AM

As Heather noted last night, the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is hanging up his political cleats after the 2014 midterm elections:

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) announced Thursday that he will not run for reelection next year, giving Republicans at least a shot of picking up another seat. The 78-year-old Armed Services Committee chairman, one of the most influential members of the Senate in either party, said he will work aggressively during his final two years in Congress...The longest-serving senator in Michigan history spent months getting pressure to announce his intention, from Democrats in D.C. and back in his state. Party leaders have pushed members to make their plans known by the spring so that they can recruit and prepare top-flight candidates...Democrats express confidence they can hold the seat, but it will be more difficult without an incumbent who has a proven power base and fundraising network.  

I sketched out the 2014 Senate landscape just the other day.  Add another Democrat to this list:

There are currently two upcoming Senate vacancies in seats controlled by Republicans in Nebraska and Georgia, both of which are likely GOP holds. Three Democrat incumbents have announced their retirements thus far, in Iowa, West Virginia and New Jersey. If Bob Menendez's scandals continue to deepen (more evidence of his cronyism has been uncovered by the Associated Press), there's a chance that there will be another Senate opening in the Garden State. I've also heard strong rumors that South Dakota Democrat Tim Johnson is preparing to step aside, which would instantly become a prime opportunity for Republicans. The GOP would need to net six seats next November to capture the upper chamber, a tall order. Republican gains of two to four seats seems eminently attainable, but that's also what many observers expected last year.

The GOP fared pretty well in Michigan during the last midterm cycle, but Democrats reasserted their Wolverine State primacy last year.  At the very least, the DSCC has another open seat to defend, and Republicans see Levin's retirement as an opportunity.  Here's NRSC Communications Director Brad Dayspring:

"Over the last few months, the 2014 map has gone from sorta difficult to really tough for Senate Democrats. Politically, Senator Levin's decision knocks a Democratic Senate already on defense far back on their heels and offers us a real pick up opportunity. Republicans can win in Michigan, as the Governor, Lt. Governor, Secretary of State, and Attorney General have proven. That is why we've been speaking to local officials and grassroots organizations in preparation for Senator Levin's potential retirement, and now that groundwork will start to pay off."  

We'll see who state Republicans end up nominating, but if they're looking for someone with strong political skills, undeniable intellectual chops, and a nose for how to win, I suspect they could do a lot worse than State Senator Patrick Colbeck:

As a trained aerospace engineer, Patrick Colbeck applied his penchant for data analysis and "systematic approach" to his new job in early 2011: a Michigan state senator, recently elected and keen to create jobs in the faded industrial powerhouse. Those skills paid off handsomely for the first-term Republican this week as Governor Rick Snyder signed into law bills co-sponsored by Colbeck that ban mandatory union membership, making Michigan the nation's 24th right-to-work state. From outside Michigan Republican circles, it appeared that the Republican drive to weaken unions came out of the blue - proposed, passed and signed in a mere six days. But the transformation had been in the making since March 2011 when Colbeck and a fellow freshman, state Representative Mike Shirkey, first seriously considered legislation to ban mandatory collection of union dues as a condition of employment in Michigan.

Such was their zeal, they even went to union halls to make their pitch and were treated "respectfully," Colbeck said. The upstarts were flirting with the once unthinkable, limiting union rights in a state that is the home of the heavily unionized U.S. auto industry and the birthplace of the nation's richest union, the United Auto Workers. For many Americans, Michigan is the state that defines organized labor. But in a convergence of methodical planning and patient alliance building - the "systematic approach" - the reformers were on a roll, one that establishment Michigan Republicans came to embrace and promised to bankroll. Republicans executed a plan - the timing, the language of the bills, the media strategy, and perhaps most importantly, the behind-the-scenes lobbying of top Republicans including Snyder.  

Democrats will be favored to hold this seat, but it's not a sure bet.

UPDATE - Other Republican names being tossed around are Congressmen Mike Rogers and Justin Amash, as well as Lt. Gov. Brian Calley.  I have no inside information on Calbeck; I was just very impressed with his performance on the right to work strategy and implementation.