Livingston County has always been a Republican stronghold, and if you’re wondering just how much of a Republican stronghold it’s been, consider this: Only twice in the last hundred years has a Democratic presidential candidate carried the county.
In 1932, Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt beat Republican Herbert Hoover by about 150 votes. And in 1964, Lyndon Johnson beat Barry Goldwater by a few thousand. That’s been it. In every other election in the last hundred years, the Republican has won handily here.
Ah, but coming into this election, there was a thought among some that maybe, just maybe, Livingston County was becoming less Republican. There were some signs in past elections that maybe the Democrats were making some inroads here, and they were thinking that the anti-Trump “blue wave” that was going to cover all of America in 2018 would somehow wash over Livingston County, too.
So the Livingston County Democrats put a lot of money and a lot of effort into this election. They recruited the best candidates they’ve ever had and they campaigned like hell. They thought that 2018 was finally going to be their year.
And now that the results are in, what did we learn? Is Livingston County becoming less Republican.
Livingston County is actually becoming more Republican. Even though this was a Democratic wave year in Michigan, Livingston County is significantly more Republican now than it was 10 years ago.
This conclusion conflicts with a fairly simplistic analysis that MLive did after the election, in which they show Livingston County has shifted 9 percentage points in the Democratic direction since 2014. They arrived at that conclusion by looking at the fact that Rick Snyder and the Republican slate in 2014 did much better than Bill Schuette and the Republican slate in 2018. While that’s true, it’s far from the whole story.
I had a chance to do a deep-dive into the precinct-by-precinct results of the Nov. 6 election, and here’s what I found:
- Countywide, gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer did the best out of all the Democrats, but she still got trounced here. (Not that she cares, since she won the election easily.) She lost to Republican Bill Schuette by 16,655 votes here.
- There are 108 precincts in Livingston County, and Whitmer only won six of them: City of Brighton Precincts 1, 2 and 3; City of Howell Precinct 1; Hamburg Township Precinct 4; and Putnam Township Precinct 3.
- In the race for U.S. Senate, incumbent Democrat Debbie Stabenow fared even worse. She lost to Republican John James by 20,570 votes and only won two precincts: City of Brighton Precinct 2 and City of Howell Precinct 2. James won 106 of 108 precincts.
- Democrat Elissa Slotkin, who campaigned heavily here, fared slightly better. She lost to Republican Mike Bishop by 18,493 votes and won four precincts (three in Brighton city and one in Howell city).
- In the race for State Senate, Lana Theis did the best of any countywide Republican candidate. She beat Democrat Adam Dreher by 25,032 and won every single precinct – all 108 of them. Livingston County loves Lana Theis, so don’t be surprised if the GOP tries to recruit her to run against Slotkin in 2020.
- The Republicans likewise dominated in both of the state rep races. In the 42nd District (Brighton and Pinckney areas), Republican Ann Bollin and Democrat Mona Shand tied in one precinct (City of Brighton Precinct 1), and Bollin won every other one easily. In the 47th District (Howell, Fowlerville, Hartland areas), incumbent Republican Rep. Hank Vaupel won every single precinct handily over Democrat Colleen Turk.
And remember – all of this was taking place in a year and a political climate in which Democrats dominated in Michigan. They won every single statewide race from governor on down. They flipped several seats in the State House and Senate. They flipped two U.S. House seats, including the 8th Congressional District race between Bishop and Slotkin.
This truly was a “blue wave” year in Michigan, and yet, they barely made a dent in Livingston County.
Again, I don’t mean to rain on the Dems’ parade, because they truly had a lot to celebrate in Michigan. They lost the battle but won the war. And Democrats in Livingston County are rightly elated that Slotkin was elected, because for the first time since 2000, Livingston County is going to be represented by a Democrat in Washington.
But Democrats in Livingston County also need to face the harsh reality that the county is actually becoming more Republican, not less.
In fact, we’re a lot more Republican now than we were 10 years ago. Consider:
- In 2008, Democrat Barack Obama lost to Republican John McCain here by just 13,235 votes. There were 98 precincts in Livingston County back then, and Obama won 12 of them. He actually won the cities of Brighton and Howell, and also carried precincts in Green Oak, Hamburg and Putnam townships.
- Fast forward eight years. In 2016, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 31,296 votes in Livingston County, and he carried every single precinct. Two years later, in the blue wave year of 2018, Gretchen Whitmer fared only slightly better, winning six precincts – half the number that Obama won 10 years earlier.
- Obama won 12 precincts in 2008. Clinton won zero in 2016 and Whitmer won six in 2018. That would certainly indicate the Democrats are going in the wrong direction.
- And there’s this: In the 2012 race for U.S. Senate, Stabenow lost to Republican Pete Hoekstra by just 9,549 votes here. In 2018, she lost to John James by 20,570 votes. Again, if I’m a Livingston County Democrat, this is not encouraging news.
Judy Daubenmeier, the chairperson of the Livingston County Democratic Party, tried to put a predictably positive spin on the results in a piece she wrote for the Livingston Post entitled, “Seven reasons county Dems should celebrate the election.”
She rightly pointed out that they succeeded in recruiting young, personable candidates who campaigned like all get-out. That’s great, because the voters deserve a choice.
She also wrote this – and I’m assuming this was directed at me, since I’m pretty much the only “Republican pundit” in Livingston County: “In a few days, you’re likely to read a piece by a Republican pundit who will tell you that Democrats should fold up their tent and go away because we didn’t ‘win.’ Remember these points when you tell him there are lots of ways to define winning and we aren’t going anywhere.”
Well, she’s wrong on that. I don’t think the Democrats should fold up their tent and go away. I like that they fielded actual candidates this year, instead of just warm bodies. Mona Shand is one of the best candidates I’ve ever seen in Livingston County from either party. She was smart, positive and passionate and inspired an army of supporters. We need candidates like that, so I don’t think the Democrats should go away.
I just think they’re never going to win here. I hope they keep fielding good candidates, but they should know that those candidates aren’t going to win. The scoreboard don’t lie, and the scoreboard says that we’re becoming more Republican, and not less.
The main job of the Democratic Party in Livingston County – and Daubenmeier admitted this – is that they need to prevent the Republicans from running up the score too much here. She points out that Livingston County contributed to Slotkin’s win by keeping Bishop’s margin down a bit. There’s some truth to that.
Bishop won the county in his race by 18,493 votes. Theis won the county in her race by 25,032 votes. That’s a difference of 6,539 votes. Slotkin won the race by just 13,000 votes overall, so those extra votes in Livingston County could have made it interesting.
And I’ll be doing another piece on this in the future, but if you want to start speculating on 2020, it’s going to be fascinating to see which Republican goes up against Slotkin. The 8th Congressional District is still a base Republican district, so the GOP is viewing this seat as a two-year rental for Slotkin. They can’t wait to run against her again, whether it’s with Bishop or someone else. But if I’m Elissa Slotkin, I’m really, really, really hoping that Lana Theis isn’t my opponent in 2020.
And if the Livingston County Democrats are looking for a sliver of hope, they can look to the City of Brighton, which is our least-Republican municipality. As noted, Whitmer won three of the four precincts there. And while she lost the city vote overall, it was by only seven votes – 1,986 to 1,979. It will be interesting to see how Trump (or whoever) does here in 2020, but this seems to be the only oasis in Livingston County that isn’t 100 percent red.
But it’s fairly remarkable and noteworthy that in the face of changing demographics and political climates, there wasn’t a single municipality in Livingston County that went for Gretchen Whitmer. Not one.
We aren’t some rural county up north. We’re a mix of suburban and rural areas, and we’re smack dab in the middle of some Democratic strongholds – Wayne County, Washtenaw County, Ingham County and Genesee County. And not one single municipality here went for the Democrat during a Democratic wave year?
So it’ll be interesting to see what the Livingston County Democrats’ strategy will be in 2020. Will they continue to put an emphasis on recruiting high-caliber local candidates like Mona Shand and Colleen Turk (who are sure to lose), or will they just try to keep Trump’s numbers down?
It’s going to be an interesting couple of years.