Highlighting, as always, a side of the truth that serious news coverage could never grasp, The Onion recently posted an alarming news brief about the upcoming election on its website. In part, it read:

“Democrats stand to lose as many as 8,000 congressional seats and more than 917 gubernatorial races in November’s midterm elections … Republicans are poised to pick up 1,500 seats in Ohio alone, and could wind up with a 23,576-to-12 majority in the Senate …”

If you’ve watched cable news recently, then the sarcasm should hit home: Hardly a second goes by these days without yet another blabbering politico declaring the death of the Democratic Party. And from staggering poll deficits even in previously safe districts, a rhetorical firefight that’s been a lost cause since about April and the recently-exalted “enthusiasm gap,” we can certainly say that the Democrats are in for a tough one.

But lost in all the alarmist nonsense about the permanent Republican takeover of the world is the individual candidates themselves. When Republicans take the majority in one or both houses of Congress, and in governor’s offices and state legislatures across the country, who those individuals are will matter. At a time when Tea Party candidates continue to push the envelope for how crazy extreme a person can be and still get elected, we need to understand that not all Republicans (or Democrats) are the same.

About two years ago, I wrote a column about the particular Republican who represents my home district, Michigan’s 11th (My McCotter mistake, 11/03/2008). Thaddeus McCotter is, by all relevant standards, as evil a failure as one could possibly imagine. Divisive, self-absorbed and bitterly vengeful toward pretty much any proposal that comes from the Left, Thaddeus has nonetheless been elected four times — and he’ll win again this time. The time to defeat him was in the 2002 Republican primary, but that’s also when most of us sensible people in the 11th district couldn’t be bothered to care.

Regardless of the ultimate fate of Harry Reid (D–Nev.), Russ Feingold (D–Wis.) or Charlie Crist (I–Fla.), what happens right here in Michigan will matter, and those races are the ones we can actually affect. It’s true that Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Snyder will cruise into office (even if his independent streak has already begun to fade), but lower-level races remain in play and voters had better look beyond the cable news political narrative to understand that much remains at stake.

One especially important election is the race for the Michigan Supreme Court. Yes, it’s silly that Michigan elects supposedly non-partisan judges who have been nominated by political parties, but let’s get over that. The Michigan Supreme Court obviously plays a pivotal role in the state of the law in Michigan, but few people realize the widespread implications the court’s rulings have.

In the world of criminal justice, the court is currently considering measures that could slam the door on thousands of inmates, many of whom are innocent. The court’s rulings also affect the state’s business culture and economic outlook, making those seven justices key players in Michigan’s road to recovery.

There are two incumbents vying for reelection — Alton Davis (unofficially a Democratic nominee) and Robert Young (unofficially a Republican nominee) — and three challengers, Denise Langford Morris (secret Democrat), Mary Beth Kelly (secret Republican) and independent Robert Roddis.

While incumbents nearly always win reelection in judicial races, the 2008 election shook up that conventional logic. Unofficial Democrat Diane Hathaway challenged then-sitting Chief Justice Clifford Taylor (a Republican favorite) and soundly defeated him. The sweeping coattails of President Barack Obama clearly carried over to the “non-partisan” side of the ballot as well.

That the political atmosphere affects “non-partisan” races is thus undeniable. But voters must again consider their options thoroughly. I, for example, will vote for Davis and Kelly, which is an unconventional combination at first glance, but not so when we look beyond labels and consider the candidates personal records, ideals and convictions.

Young and Kelly are both nominated by the Republican Party but offer a stark contrast in terms of judicial outlook, personality and loyalty. Davis is nominated by the Democrats, but as a native of Michigan’s upper peninsula, he offers plenty in terms of personal conviction and philosophy for Republicans to admire.

With much of the electorate sitting out the races they can’t understand (i.e. the ones with no party affiliation), those few informed voters who do vote in all races can make a huge difference. Regardless of the eulogies being sung on cable news for Obama, Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) and the Left in general, Michigan’s political and economic future remains very much undecided. And it’s up to the informed few to set the course.

Imran Syed can be reached at galad@umich.edu.

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