There's growing speculation that a Democratic Lansing-area House district could elect a Republican next week.
Some pundits say it’s important that the Dems hold on to the 67th district to maintain leverage in the GOP-run House. The race has become one of the most closely watched legislative contests in Michigan. Both Democrat Tom Cochran and Republican Jeff Oesterle are predicting victory.
It’s a battle to become the first person not named ‘Byrum’ to represent the 67th in a decade. Both candidates beat the jobs and education drum loudly.
Democrat Tom Cochran is a 59-year old former Lansing Fire Chief. The union-backed member of the Mason School Board rails against recent Republican-led cuts to education. On his website, he backs ideas like the Democrats’ ‘Michigan 2020’ plan. That would pay for college for Michigan high school graduates by trimming billions in alleged loopholes from the state budget.
"Tax loopholes and the ability to find those revenues through possibly discontinuing those tax breaks,” he explains.
Jeff Oesterle is a longtime Vevay Township official, agri-businessman and one-time teacher. Like many at the capital, he says job growth is the key to stable education funding. Still, Oesterle says he opposed last year’s $470 per student cut to K-12 schools.
"There was plenty of places for it to go in K-12 education, in fact I’ve stretched it farther than that. I believe that we need to start worrying more about pre-K education,” he says.
Cochran blasts last year’s Republican-backed corporate tax overhaul that amounted to a billion dollar plus tax cut for Michigan corporations.
“If there’s been any jobs created at all, there’ve been very, very few jobs that have been created, and I don’t know there have been any at all,” he maintains.
He credits the federal government’s action to bailout GM and Chrysler for the state’s lower jobless rate.
Oesterle counters that lower corporate rates are enticing companies to move to Michigan with jobs.
“They now look at Michigan as one of the ones they’re interested in, where before it was so far down the list, you almost had to look up to see bottom,” he says.
Oesterle says he aligns himself more closely to Governor Rick Snyder’s brand of conservatism than to legislators farther to the right.
Several factors are behind Republican optimism about the 67th. Oesterle says the recently redrawn district includes more GOP-friendly voters in south Lansing. He says that’s especially promising considering he took 47% of the vote in his 2010 House contest with incumbent Barb Byrum.
He’s also hopeful of riding a few coat tails as polls suggest Mitt Romney has pulled closer to President Obama in Michigan. Last week, the news organization MIRS put the district on its list of 20 state House districts “most likely to flip.”
Chris Gautz covers the state House for the Lansing-based Gongwer News Service.
“This is one of those races like about a handful, maybe a half-dozen around the state where both sides are just all in and they’re not going to let up until Election Day,” he says.
Gautz says the outcome may hang on Cochran’s ability to cut into Oesterle’s rural support. He says that's something both Barb Byrum and her mother Dianne--who held the seat before her--were able to do.
“They haven’t really seen the Cochran campaign really do that, so they’re not really cutting into Mr. Oesterle’s lead there which means all he has to do is pull even in the Delhi area,” he says. “The Republicans feel good about that.”
Gautz, and others, call the race a “barnburner” that should go to the wire.