By ERIC FREEDMAN
Capital News Service
LANSING – As Michigan voters focus on major hot races such as those for president and U.S. Senate, some other contests, well, aren’t really contests.
Consider first-term state Rep. Tyrone Carter, D-Detroit. He’s the only unopposed incumbent in the state House.
But to earn that status, he first had to beat two challengers in the August primary.
“It feels great,” he said of the easy ride in November, “but the battle for Democratic seats are really the primary. That’s where the real struggle and battle are, especially in the metro area,”
“They’re safe for the Democrats – -they’re not safe for us” individually, Carter said.
Abraham Aiyash, a Hamtramck Democrat, is the only other unopposed House candidate. He won an 11-way primary for an open seat.
Their situation is in sharp contrast with, say, the U.S. Senate race where incumbent Democrat Gary Peters faces Republican nominee John James and aspirants from the U.S. Taxpayer, Natural Law and Green parties.
There’s also a five-way congressional race in West Michigan, where incumbent U.S. Rep Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, faces Democrat Bryan Berghoef of Holland and Libertarian, Green and U.S. Taxpayers candidates. In Southeast Michigan, incumbent Democrats U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Detroit and Brenda Lawrence of Southfield each face four opponents, one Republican and the others from minor parties.
The uncontested contest phenomenon isn’t new. After all, George Washington was twice elected president without an opponent. But it is intriguing in this year of unusually harsh and vitriolic partisanship.
And it benefits both major parties, depending on location.
In solid red Montcalm County, for instance, there are no Democrats on the November ballot for any countywide job, including high-profile jobs of sheriff and prosecutor. Democrats fielded only one candidate in nine races for county commission seats there.
“We never see Democrats run,” unopposed incumbent County Clerk Kristen Millard said.
“Why?” she was asked. “I have absolutely no idea,” the Republican Millard replied.
In Allegan County, Democrats nominated only one countywide candidate – for drain commissioner.
Fielding a full roster hasn’t been the state party’s highest priority, said Democrat Mark Ludwig of Clyde Township, the drain commission candidate in the “cherry red” county.
The party ran a full slate of unsuccessful county commission contenders in 2018, but none this year, said Ludwig, who co-chairs the state party’s Rural Caucus.
Why aren’t any of them running again? “That’s a great question,” he replied.
Rather than looking at county-level races this year, the state party’s priority “is making sure our statewide candidates don’t lose as badly in rural Michigan” as they did in past elections, Ludwig said.
At the county commissioner level, no Republicans are on the ballot in Alger, Gogebic and Marquette counties.
And Michigan Association of Counties data show no Democrats running for county commission in 17 counties, including Hillsdale, Montmorency, Huron, Crawford, Branch, Oceana and Luce.
Manistee County has a contested sheriff’s race, but nobody’s challenging the remaining countywide nominees – all Republicans except Democratic Register of Deeds Marylynn Wrzesinski.
All countywide Republican nominees are unopposed in St. Joseph, Oceana, Branch, Mackinac, Ionia and Chippewa counties. The only contested countywide race in Democrat-dominated Alger County is for road commissioner and in Democrat-dominated Gogebic County is for drain commissioner.
In red Grand Traverse County, GOP Sheriff Tom Bensley is the only countywide official with a Democratic challenger.
Meanwhile in blue Marquette County, Democratic Sheriff Gregory Zyburt is the only countywide official with a GOP challenger.
Why are there no Republican challengers for other countywide posts in Marquette County?
Democratic clerk Linda Talsma, who has never been opposed, laughs, saying, “That means we’re all doing a fantastic job.”