Two local public service veterans are competing to represent Michigan's 69th district in the state House. Democrat Sam Singh is a former East Lansing councilman and mayor. Republican Susan McGillicuddy is a former Meridian Township trustee who's served as the township's supervisor for the last 12 years.
The 69th district includes one of the most affluent voting blocs in mid-Michigan, stretching from East Lansing through Meridian Township to Williamston.
While both candidates have good name recognition, Democrat Sam Singh is considered the heavy favorite. The 69th leans to the left. Singh's popularity is also reflected in a long list of endorsements from a host of labor unions, environmental groups and regional politicians.
Republican contender Susan McGillicuddy lost her previous bid for the seat two years ago to the incumbent, Democrat Mark Meadows. McGillicuddy has no formal endorsement list; instead, explaining on her campaign website that she doesn't wish to be connected with special interest groups.
Kyle Melinn is the editor of the Michigan Information and Research Service. He says despite its blue tint, the 69th has many independently minded voters who prefer to vote the person over the party.
"Even though it's trending Democratic, it will go either way," Melinn notes. "For example, in 2010, Rick Snyder actually narrowly beat Virg Bernero in this district."
Each candidate makes the economy a centerpiece of their campaigns. Singh emphasizes access to higher education and "new economy" jobs as one of his major themes. McGillicuddy favors the GOP-led tax cuts she says are attracting businesses in Michigan.
MELISSA BENMARK: Kevin Lavery is here to talk some more about the contest to represent the 69th district in the Michigan House. Hi Kevin.
KEVIN LAVERY: Hello, Melissa.
BENMARK: What do we know about these two candidates, Susan McGillicuddy and Sam Singh?
LAVERY: Susan McGillicuddy has a long service record in the region. She's led Meridian Township as supervisor since 2000, and she's been active in a host of municipal planning organizations. She's also a member of Republicans for Environmental Protection, having been Michigan's chair and treasurer. I think she's seen as a moderate Republican who can reach across the aisle.
Sam Singh has a very solid name in this community. He began as a student at Michigan State University, and he helped create some programs like Alternative Spring Break that are still active today. He served 10 years on the East Lansing city council and one term as mayor. He was also president and CEO of the Michigan Nonprofit Association, and he's credited as being one of the key players who helped bring the Technology Innovation Center to East Lansing; that's the I-T business incubator near MSU.
BENMARK: How have each of them shaped their messages this campaign, and what type of support have they built?
LAVERY: Well, again, each puts high value on strengthening the economy, but they approach that from different ways. Earlier this year, before the primary, Sam Singh was asked about his priorities in a televised debate. He talked about the "three E's" of his platform: economic development, environment and education.
"The state of Michigan I grew up in was a state that invested in all those three priorities," Singh says. "We were a leader in those priorities, and unfortunately over the last decade, we've slipped. We've taken extreme cuts to our K-12 system. I'm worried if we want to position ourselves in a global economy, that we can't do this on the cheap."
Susan McGillicuddy also focuses on growing businesses, but she's an advocate of the Republican tax cuts. She says high taxes mean companies disappear. She talked about that point in one of her debates this year too, and she also mentioned the six percent corporate flat tax on certain businesses.
"There are some merits to the flat tax, but that's a tax increase," says McGillicuddy. "Quite honestly, I'd be a little bit anxious that any future legislature would raise that flat tax to 10 percent or 12 percent. There's no guarantee that they would not raise it."
In the end, though, every political race comes down to money raised and visibility. Sam Singh is very well funded, and has greatly outspent Susan McGillicuddy. Kyle Melinn, who we heard from earlier, says there's no real indication at all that the 69th is going to flip to the red side, and Sam Singh is all but assured to win.