By Todd Spangler/Detroit Free Press
The soon-to-be-vacant U.S. Senate seat in Michigan — something of a rarity — isn’t exactly drawing an interested crowd.
On Friday, U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, a Howell Republican, took himself out of the 2014 race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, depriving Republicans of the candidate many thought had the best chance of wresting the seat from Democratic control.
His departure leaves one prominent Republican candidate who has already announced her intentions, former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, and one prominent Democrat who has already cleared his party’s field, U.S. Rep. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township.
Speculation has even been circulating that U.S. Rep. Justin Amash — a libertarian firebrand from Cascade Township in west Michigan — may be backing away from a race after once being considered to be a likely participant.
Hanging over the race, however, are a few political facts: Peters enjoys vast support among Michigan’s still-powerful unions and has a base in key Detroit suburbs. And while Republicans have managed to win statewide office on several occasions, none has been able to win a U.S. Senate race since Spencer Abraham’s single-term victory in 1994.
Despite Michigan’s Republican governor, Legislature, attorney general and secretary of state, most political prognosticators consider the Senate seat a safe bet for Democrats to hold on to.
It was unsurprising then that Rogers, in a message Friday to supporters, said he plans to continue his service in the House, where he is currently serving his seventh two-year term.
“For me, the significance and depth of the impact I can make on my constituents’ behalf far outweighs the perceived importance of any title I might hold,” Rogers said, announcing his decision in an e-mail to supporters.
“I believe that from my current position, I am best able to have a real, positive impact on protecting our nation and her citizens,” he said, adding that once the Republican primary has concluded, he’ll work to help elect the GOP nominee, whoever it is.
Former Michigan Gov. Jim Blanchard, a Democrat and a key Peters’ supporter, said he wasn’t surprised by Rogers’ decision but believed him to be “the only really strong candidate they could have fielded against Gary.”
Before announcing his decision, Rogers spoke to Gov. Rick Snyder and state Republican Party Chairman Bobby Schostak, who said he has “no doubt that Republicans will field a strong candidate to win this seat in 2014.”
“His responsibilities as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee are critical to our national security — a role that, while at a tense time in our nation’s history, we can trust he will perform to the best of his ability,” Schostak said of Rogers.
Earlier this year, after Peters announced his was seriously considering a run, Rogers said much the same thing. But while Peters was considered almost certain to run, speculation quickly began about the likelihood of Rogers jumping into an uncertain race when he already holds a prominent leadership position in Washington.
Most observers thought Rogers, 50, would be a formidable candidate. A former FBI agent, he has made a name for himself, showing an ability to work across the political aisle with Democratic allies while remaining a staunch conservative.
In recent weeks, he has been a regular presence on political talk shows, defending secret surveillance programs as legal and necessary in the fight against worldwide terrorism.
With Rogers out and Amash’s participation uncertain, it now falls to Land — one of the state’s two members of the Republican National Committee — to use the relatively clear field to raise money and support in hopes of forestalling the prospect of potential challengers gaining ground and giving herself a head start for a general election campaign.
Bill Ballenger, the publisher of Lansing-based Inside Michigan Politics, said contrary to other political opinions, he believes Land — if she wins the Republican nomination — could find a way to beat Peters, if he, as expected, takes the Democratic nod.
Land, after all, will be the only person in the race who has won statewide election before.
Speaking to Ballenger for this week’s issue on Inside Michigan Politics, Land said Peters “has a voting record, starting with two terms in the state Senate” that she’d be eager to discuss with voters.