As the Nov. 4 election approaches, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land has become more difficult to define.
She’s bringing in significant amounts of money — her campaign raised a total of $11 million in contributions as of the last quarter, more than her Democratic challenger — and she’s not short on airtime, running multiple ads in the lead-up to elections. This week, she concluded an expansive bus tour of the state, covering 3,181 miles over the course of three months.
That strong showing in resources, however, is juxtaposed with some less-than-favorable numbers. By the most recent polls, Land trails her Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, by an average of 11.4 points. And she’s only garnered one major media endorsement, from Crain’s Detroit Business.
At the start of campaign season, Land’s chances of succeeding longtime U.S. Senator Carl Levin looked favorable — a former Secretary of State who ran two successful statewide campaigns for the position in 2002 and 2006, beating her opposition by more than 10 percentage points each time.
In the Senate race, early polls had her doing well. The seat, the first open in Michigan in 20 years, was highlighted by Republicans in their effort to flip control of the U.S. Senate in their favor.
“Terri’s got a great record,” said GOP consultant Stu Sandler, president of Decider Strategies. “If you look at her record as Secretary of State, she ran a statewide office for eight years and did so with extraordinary success, and it’s one of the reasons, if you look today that Crain’s endorsed her, it’s one of the reasons why.”
But from the start, her campaign has been unable to escape concerns of poor management, some coming from within her own party. She’s faced criticisms both about her policies, which have been seen as out-of-touch with the state, and about her interactions with the public and the media, which have been characterized as limited and awkward.
Earlier this month, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, a major group working to fund the GOP push for the Senate, pulled funding for advertisements for Land, concentrating instead on races in other states. Both the Land campaign and the NRSC said at the time that the funding was pulled because Land had resources from other groups. Neither responded to requests for comment about potential reinvestment in the race by the NRSC.
Sandler said it seems like a narrative has been constructed around Land, one he said hasn’t done her justice.
“I think the criticism has been unfair,” he said. “Terri has done a variety of public appearances, she’s done a variety of media appearances. For some reason, a narrative started about her being less willing to be in public, which I think is a false narrative. I think it’s unfair, because I think she’s been out quite a bit.”
This narrative can also be defined by Land’s policy decisions, Political Science Prof. Vincent Hutchings said. He pointed to issues that have been prominent in political messaging during the campaign such as pay equity, climate change and affiliation with the Koch brothers — a pair of Republican billionaires tied to the more hardline side of the party — as having the most impact on how Land is viewed.
In April, American Bridge 21st Century, a liberal-aligned political action committee, released a video of Land in which she appeared to say pay flexibility was more important to women than pay equity, prompting backlash and Democratic attacks. On the other issues, the Peters campaign has launched a continuous barrage of ads seeking to portray Land as environmentally unfriendly in comparison to Peters, who is a proponent for climate protection, and also as an extremist because of her partnership with the Koch Brothers.
“There’s been a lot of nuance in these ads, but they are consistent,” Hutchings said. “They’re putting the impression out there that she is kind of a right-wing ideologue who is not sensitive to the concerns of working people and women, and that she’s also not good for the environment. (The Peters campaign) is hammering home on those issues, and for whatever reason, they seem to have resonated.”
Though Land has fired back on those messages in several ways, namely emphasizing her campaign message that she’s a mom, and moms “get things done,” Hutchings said the narrative is prominent because there’s some truth to many of the issues presented.
“I haven’t seen any accusations that appear to be wholly off-base,” he said. “Now, there’s a lot more going on as well of course — Land has a whole range of different characteristics. She can’t be reduced to those in particular. But the point is that they’re qualities that are associated with that candidate.”
The Land campaign did not return requests for comment.
Sandler, the GOP consultant, said from his point of view, it was difficult to pinpoint exactly where the narrative comes from, but he pointed to the competitive nature of the race as one example.
“I think her campaign’s done a good job, but I also know that Michigan’s a tough, competitive state and she’s had an incredible amount of resources spent against her,” he said. “Her campaign’s done a good job under tough circumstances.”
This has been the most expensive Senate race in Michigan’s history — more than $50 million has been spent on either Land or Peters’ behalf thus far, most coming from contributors outside of the state. Over the past few election cycles in Michigan, Democrats have typically been more successful for federal positions, making winning roles like U.S. Senator an uphill battle for Republicans.
Ultimately, Hutchings said, instead of an external factor that’s causing Land to perform poorly, the negativity that’s followed Land throughout the campaign may actually be a reflection of her poor showing in the polls.
“I don’t think that the candidate is doing poorly because of a poor public image,” he said. “I think that the candidate has a poor public image because she is doing poorly. That is to say, it’s not that the outcome of the election is the consequence of poor public image, it’s that poor public image is a product of the fact that she’s not doing so well.”