Michigan Senate: Levin to Retire, But Open Seat Remains Safe for Now

March 7, 2013 · 10:43 PM EDT

Democratic Sen. Carl Levin’s decision to not seek a seventh term certainly doesn’t come as a shock -- and it also doesn’t immediately warrant a change in how competitive his seat in Michigan should be viewed.

The rare open seat -- the last since Spencer Abraham (R) was elected in 1994 -- is sure to draw interest on both sides, but Democrats still start out with a distinct advantage, and Republican chances may not be fully realized until the GOP nominee comes into focus.

A long line of Democrats are likely to eye the seat: Rep. Gary Peters, former Rep. Mark Schauer, and 2010 secretary of state nominee Jocelyn Benson. Peters won a competitive member vs, member primary in 2010 against fellow Rep. Hansen Clarke, and observers say that he has been eyeing statewide office. But with GOP Gov. Rick Snyder’s poll number slipping, ambitious Democrats now have two statewide offices to consider.

The Republican primary could prove crucial for how seriously the GOP can compete. Michigan has been solidly blue in presidential elections, and although Rick Snyder (R) was elected governor in 2010, there is little recent evidence that Republicans are competitive in federal statewide contests. In 2012, Stabenow easily turned back a challenge from former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R), winning by over 20 points. The last Republican presidential nominee to win Michigan was George H.W. Bush in 1988.

The open seat is sure to draw plenty of interest from the state’s congressional delegation, and Reps. Candice Miller, Mike Rogers and Justin Amash are mentioned as possible candidates, as is Lt. Gov. Brian Calley. Amash, who fits squarely with the party’s libertarian wing, could be problematic for the GOP statewide. Attorney General Bill Schuette quickly released a statement which said he would stay in his current role.

For now, this seat remains in our Currently Safe category for the Democrats. The party is likely to have bigger headaches to worry about in 2014, and Republicans have much better opportunities than the Wolverine State.