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Politics & Government

With the election almost 2 years away, one Democrat throws her hat in the ring

Jack Lessenberry

Three months ago, Gretchen Driskell was elected to a second term in the Michigan House of Representatives. Yesterday, she announced that next year, she will run for Congress.

There was a time when such an early announcement would have sparked derision and ridicule. The election is almost two years away. 

There are people who don’t know each other yet who, by that time, will have met, married and had a baby.

But nowadays, Driskell’s early announcement is smart politics.

It will probably prevent any other serious contenders from jumping in the race, and will give her a head start on raising the millions she will need to have a shot at winning a two year term in Congress.

The question is, does she have a shot at it?

This district, which stretches west from Ann Arbor in southern lower Michigan, has been sort of a will-o-the wisp for Democrats. On paper, they should have a chance. It is Republican, but not overwhelmingly so. The incumbent, Tim Walberg, is considerably to the right of the average voter here, and has not especially distinguished himself in Congress.

Seven years ago, President Obama carried the district, and Mark Schauer managed to defeat Walberg. But the Republican got his seat back two years later, and has been there ever since.

Last year he should have had a strong challenger in Pam Byrnes, a moderate Democrat who once represented the same legislative seat Driskell now does. But she was beaten worse than expected, even losing the traditionally Democratic Washtenaw County part of the district.

However, Democrats always have a better shot in presidential election years. One Republican consultant told me that if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic presidential nominee, he expects a tide of women voters that will give her party control of the Michigan House.

We will have to see how all this plays out.

Driskell did manage to beat a Republican incumbent three years ago, and then hold on to her seat despite last year’s Republican tide. Democrats did something else interesting last week that got too little notice.

They introduced a bill in Lansing that would guarantee Michigan workers the right to earn paid sick days, based on how many hours someone worked. The bill would guarantee a full-time, 40-hour-a-week employee almost nine sick days a year.

Believe it or not, between a million and a million and a half Michigan workers get no paid sick leave at all.

However, Republicans control both houses of the Legislature, and they are no more likely to pass this bill than they are to pass a bill collectivizing agriculture. But paid sick leave ought to resonate with the public.

If Democrats are smart enough to find two or three more such issues – child care, perhaps, or pensions, and challenge Republicans to pass them, they could put together a platform and a program that might carry them to victory statewide. That was a big part of how Harry Truman won his famous upset presidential election victory many years ago.

However, there have been years when Democrats never missed an opportunity to miss their opportunities. It will be interesting to see if they can break that cycle this time.

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