Historically, Democrats in Livingston County have been about as successful at winning elections as the Detroit Lions have been at winning Super Bowls.
Not that it’s really their fault. Livingston County is, and always has been, one of the most Republican counties in Michigan. In the same way that Democrats always win in Detroit and Ann Arbor, Republicans always win in Livingston County. That’s just the way it is.
There are always Democrats on the ballot in Livingston County, and we always hear from the local Democrats that THIS is the year they’re finally going to win something, but they’re always trounced.
Ah, but could this be the year that the Democrats finally DO win something in Livingston County?
They certainly think so. And they have, to my recollection, by far the most viable candidate they’ve ever had in a major countywide election.
And if the Democrats don’t win this year in Livingston County, they never will.
This is it for them. The Dems have moved all their chips to the middle of the table this year. They’ll never have a better candidate, and as they see it, they’ll never have more favorable conditions.
It’s all-or-nothing for Livingston County Democrats this year. If they don’t win this year, they never will.
Here’s the situation:
Mona Shand is the Democrat running for state representative in the 42nd District. The district primarily covers the southeast portion of the county, including the Brighton and Pinckney areas. This is the seat currently held by State Rep. Lana Theis, R-Brighton Township, who is giving up the seat to run for State Senate this year.
Shand is unopposed in the Democratic primary, so she’ll face Republican Ann Bollin, currently the Brighton Township clerk, in the fall. And I’m about to tell you why Shand is the most viable Democratic candidate we’ve ever seen here.
Full disclosure: I’m a Republican. More full disclosure: I know Mona Shand and Ann Bollin, and I like both of them very much. So take all of this analysis for what it’s worth.
But I’m about to tell you why Mona Shand is the most viable candidate the Democrats have fielded in Livingston County, ever.
First, a little history of Democrats in Livingston County.
The last time a Democrat carried Livingston County in a presidential election was way back in 1964, when the Republicans nominated Barry Goldwater, who was trounced everywhere, including here. Before then and since then, this has been a solid sea of red. Barack Obama actually carried a few precincts and municipalities in 2008, but he still lost the county overall big-time. In 2016, Donald Trump got 62 percent of the vote to Hillary Clinton’s 32 percent.
We vote Republican around here.
Over the 35 years that I’ve been in Livingston County, we’ve had a few scattered Democrats elected on the local level, mostly in the southern townships. Putnam and Unadilla have both elected a handful of Democrats through the years, and Democrat Jake Donohue represented that area on the county commission for a few years. There have been one or two others.
We’ve also had Democrats elected as judges in Livingston County, although they ran on the non-partisan side, so they didn’t have to put their party affiliation on the ballot. Each of them was first appointed by a Democratic governor before winning re-election.
Judge Daniel Burress was appointed by Gov. Jim Blanchard to fill a vacancy on the bench in 1986, while Judge Michael Hatty and Judge Theresa Brennan were both appointed by Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Burress and Hatty ended up working out pretty well. Brennan, not so much.
But aside from that, Democrats have been shut out in Livingston County. They always lose the presidential and gubernatorial races, they always lose countywide elections (for sheriff, clerk, etc.) and they always lose state representative and state senator elections. And it’s never close.
Enter Mona Shand.
Shand lives in Genoa Township with her husband and three kids, and she’s something of a local celebrity. She’s a radio and TV personality, working most recently for the Public News Service and WDIV-TV, so you can only imagine how good she’ll be in a debate. She’s also heavily involved in the community, serving on the Board of Directors for LACASA and working with the Livingston County Community Alliance.
She’s smart, telegenic and involved in the community, and that alone would make her the perfect candidate on paper.
But here’s the thing that really sets Mona Shand apart from every other Democratic candidate we’ve seen in Livingston County: She knows how to raise money.
When the pre-primary campaign filing statements were posted on Friday, it was fairly astonishing to see that Shand had raised $29,745, mostly in increments of $100 or so. She had a ton of people donating to her campaign, both inside and outside of Livingston County. She reports having $19,907 cash on hand.
Her Republican opponent, Ann Bollin, reported raising $42,485, which included a personal contribution of about $26,000. She has $26,121 cash on hand.
Shand’s fundraising total blew me away. Raising $29,000 is pretty good for any state rep candidate, but for a Democrat in Livingston County, it’s unheard of.
By comparison, Timothy Johnson, the Democrat who ran in the 42nd District back in 2016, raised a whopping grand total of $525.96.
So when I say that the Democrats think they have their best chance ever of winning an election in Livingston County this year, that’s why. They have a smart, capable candidate who knows how to raise money.
And I’ll repeat: If they don’t win this year, they never will.
It’s also worth noting that the Democrats are putting up several other viable candidates in the county this year. In the Howell/Fowlerville 47th State House district, Democrat Colleen Turk is taking on the popular incumbent Rep. Hank Vaupel, R-Handy Township. Turk raised $4,137 before the primary, which isn’t bad.
The Democrats are also running candidates in each of the county commission races, and several of them seem to be waging strong campaigns.
But there’s no doubt that Mona Shand is the Democrats’ biggest hope this year. In addition to having a viable candidate who can raise money, the thinking on the Democratic side as to why they can win this race goes like this (and again, this is THEIR thinking, not mine):
• President Trump is hugely unpopular, and he’s going to bring motivated voters to the polls who have rarely if ever voted before, all of whom will be voting for Democrats.
• He’s especially unpopular among female voters, so a bunch of the moderate Republican women who voted for Trump in 2016 will be voting for Mona Shand and other Democrats in 2018.
In short, they see a blue wave coming this November, and it’s going to carry every Democrat to victory.
So, does she actually have a chance?
Sorry to burst the bubble, but I’d say it’s a very, very slim one. Even if we see a blue wave in November – and I have huge doubts about that – I don’t think it will ever be blue enough to carry a Democrat to victory in Livingston County.
The major statewide political newsletters – MIRS, Gongwer, etc. – have all published lists of the State House districts most likely to flip. None of them have the 42nd District on their list.
So I’m not the only one who’s pessimistic about Shand’s chances. This is how MIRS describes the race:
“Technically, Bollin won the race when Joe Riker pulled out of the Republican primary, but this race was probably over the second the Brighton Township clerk agreed to run. Bollin is a proven vote getter in a township that made up 21 percent of the vote in the 42nd House district in 2016, giving her a political base that Riker didn’t have.
“These five townships (in the 42nd) are united in their love for Republicans, so much so that they all supported Terri Lynn Land over Gary Peters for U.S. Senate in 2016, when the Republican only received 41 percent statewide.”
So, it’s a really, really Republican district. By the numbers, this is what Mona Shand is up against:
• MIRS says the district has a base of 66.05 percent Republican and 33.95 percent Democrat.
• In 2014, Republican Lana Theis won the district, 65 percent to 34 percent. In 2016, her margin was 63 to 32.
On top of that, her Republican opponent is a smart, likable, well-connected woman who has been in office since 2002. She doesn’t have any negatives. Mona Shand would have a much greater chance of winning if she had a flawed opponent, but she doesn’t have a flawed opponent. She has a very strong one.
Now, I know for a fact that Ann Bollin isn’t taking this race for granted, and if anything, Shand’s strong fundraising numbers will probably motivate her campaign even more. If I were them, I’d be running like this race was a 50-50 toss-up.
And as someone who has been following Livingston County politics for almost the past four decades, this is probably the most fascinating Republican vs. Democrat match-up I’ve ever seen. Most of the other memorable battles were either in a Republican primary or in the judicial races. We don’t often get a juicy general-election match-up.
There was a pretty good battle back in 1994, when Republican Mike Rogers ran against Democrat Mike Hatty for State Senate, but I’d say this one is even more intriguing.
So, does Mona Shand have a shot? She’ll no doubt have a strong showing on Nov. 6, but can a Democrat actually win here?
Hey, stranger things have happened in elections. Alabama elected a Democratic U.S. Senator. Donald Trump was elected president.
Surprising things happen when people go to the polls.
All I know is that the fall just got a little more exciting around here.