In Michigan, Peters Is In

Rep. Gary Peters' (D-MI-14)

Rep. Gary Peters (D-MI-14)

Rep. Gary Peters’ (D-MI-14) anticipated run for the Senate became reality yesterday as the Detroit congressman officially unveiled his statewide campaign. It has been a foregone conclusion that Peters would run since early March when veteran Sen. Carl Levin (D) publicly indicated that he would not seek re-election in 2014.

Peters is serving his third term in the House, originally winning in 2008 when he defeated Joe Knollenberg in an Oakland County seat. Prior to that, he served as the Michigan lottery commissioner, and as a state senator. Now that Debbie Dingell, wife of Rep. John Dingell (D-MI-12), will not become a candidate Peters has a strong chance of quickly evolving into the consensus Democratic nominee long before voters go to the polls in the August 2014 Democratic primary.

The congressman is a strong behind-the-scenes politician. Drawing the short straw in 2011 redistricting, as his seat was collapsed into veteran Rep. Sander Levin’s (D-MI-9) because the reapportionment formula reduced the size of the Michigan congressional delegation, Peters decided to attempt a run at the majority minority African-American seat in Detroit rather than take on a member of the Levin family. Sander Levin is the senator’s older brother. It was long believed that the trio made a political deal: Peters would refrain from running against Sander Levin in return for the family’s support when Carl Levin retired. The existence of such a deal may be the reason Ms. Dingell abruptly decided against running for the Senate after laboriously testing her political strength through her substantial network of statewide contacts.

The significance of Peters’ 2012 victory was under-publicized. For him to move south into a Detroit-anchored seat from his Oakland county base and defeat a sitting freshman incumbent (then-Rep. Hansen Clarke) was equivalent to making a long three-point basketball shot. Peters adroitly took advantage of a split within the majority African-American community among three candidates and won the Democratic primary with 47 percent of the vote. He is a shrewd political operator who cannot be under-estimated in this campaign.

The Republicans need to unite behind one candidate in the near future if they are to make this open Senate race competitive. Michigan is a Democratic state but, as happened just two years ago when the GOP swept every office, the Republicans can perform well in mid-term elections here when turnout is lower.

The individual most mentioned as a potential candidate, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI-8), has not officially removed himself from the discussion for the Senate race but is also not making any discernible moves to run. Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI-3) originally expressed interest in the statewide race, but has been quiet of late and he, too, is not taking any overt steps to become a candidate. With strong potential candidates like Reps. Candice Miller (R-MI-10) and Dave Camp (R-MI-4), in addition to attorney general and former congressman Bill Schuette immediately saying they would not run when Sen. Levin announced his decision to retire, the Republicans will probably land a nominee who has no previous electoral experience. Against a professional politician like Peters, this type of match-up could play to their favor.

If the Republicans are going to seriously challenge for the Senate majority, the Michigan seat becomes a critical cog in their victory path. Peters will now act quickly to lock down the race. The next few weeks represent a critical development period for this budding campaign.

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