Could Michigan Help the GOP Take Over the U.S. Senate? [Polling update]

While the Clintons continue to prepare the battlespace for what they seem to assume will be a successful run for Hillary in 2016, Senate Democrats are finding the terrain increasingly difficult for November, 2014.

It’s been two months since the Real Clear Politics poll-averaged map of the Senate showed a GOP majority-winning gain of six seats, but the latest results show that magic sixth seat — thanks to a stronger-than-expected showing by former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land. In fact, Michigan, a state long dominated by the Democrats and their union-heavy base in Detroit, might be the best example of the problems the party faces.

Seventy-nine-year-old Democrat Carl Levin is retiring after 36 years, leaving it up to Congressman Gary Peters to keep the seat from turning red for the first time since 1978. Officially this race is a tossup, but a recent poll from Mitchell Research shows Land with a six-point lead, her strongest showing to date. Unlike Peters, Land has winning experience running a statewide race, twice elected as secretary of State. In 2002, Peters tried and failed to win statewide office for attorney general.

Michigan voters also reflect President Obama’s recent anxieties that Democrats “get clobbered” in midterms because they don’t show up to vote. On Saturday, the Washington Post’s Dan Balz briefly profiled one such voter, 23-year-old Carly Devries:

A recent college graduate, she works for a state environmental agency. Like Anderson, she has only voted in presidential elections. What would motivate her to vote in November? “If there is some major issue or something... that would directly affect me or that I was really passionate about,” she said.

Devries considers herself a Democrat because she thinks some Republicans have views that “make me angry and are irrational and don’t follow my belief set.” But she likes Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who is running for reelection this fall. “He doesn’t really have those kinds of extreme views,” she said.

Snyder, like other successful midwestern Republican governors, has focused on good governance and bread & butter issues, and largely avoided issues that make voters like Devries “angry and irrational.” The result has been the rehabilitation of the GOP brand at the state level, even in traditionally Democratic states like Michigan.

The Democrats may also find themselves playing defense in Iowa, where they had originally expected an easy win despite the retirement of Tom Harkin after 30 years — but two factors may be working in favor of the Republicans.

The first is Democrat Congressman and Senate nominee Bruce Braley’s famous foot-in-mouth incident four weeks ago, when he described popular GOP Senator Chuck Grassley as “a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school.” Adding insult to injury, Braley made his remarks at a tony out-of-state fundraiser.