A Conservative Intelligence/Harper poll shows Michigan Republican Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land leading Democrat Gary Peters 44 percent-36 percent. Land is a former two-term secretary of state; Peters is a three-term congressman from the black-majority 14th district. This gives Land a narrow 39.4 percent-38.8 percent lead in the RealClearPolitics average of polls taken in the last five months (a March 2013 Harper poll also showed Land leading by 8 percent, but the 29 percent-21 percent result meant that half the voters had no choice).
The current poll still has 20 percent on the fence and neither of these candidates has a high statewide profile. Secretary of state is normally not a high-visibility office (it issues license plates). Land was elected 55 percent-43 percent in 2002 and re-elected 56 percent-42 percent in 2006, years in which Democrat Jennifer Granholm was elected governor; Land has not been on the statewide ballot since 2006. Peters won a suburban congressional district in 2008, by beating Republican incumbent Joe Knollenberg 52 percent-43 percent, and was re-elected 50 percent-47 percent in 2010. Redistricting switched him to a district stretching from inner city Detroit to Pontiac, where in August 2012 he beat black-Bangladeshi one-term incumbent Hansen Clarke 47 percent-35 percent in the Democratic primary. Two other black candidates won 17 percent of the vote, and so he must have considered himself vulnerable in a one-on-one primary against a well-known black challenger. So this looks like a race between a Republican who has nothing political to lose and a Democrat who has decided it's up or out.
The seat is open because widely popular Democratic incumbent Carl Levin, Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, has decided to retire after six terms. Most observers assumed that any Democratic candidate would have the edge in a state that voted 54 percent for Barack Obama and 45 percent for native son Mitt Romney.
What this poll, conducted by a Republican firm, tells us is not that that may not be the case -- not that Land should be regarded as anything like a clear favorite. Despite the presumed advantage of having the Democratic label, Peters has not gotten more than 43 percent in any public poll. His 36 percent in this poll is pretty weak for a Democratic candidate and suggests that Obamacare has hurt his party's brand. That's corroborated by the party identification question, which shows a 32 percent-27 percent Democratic edge over Republicans -- in contrast to the 2012 exit poll, which showed a 40 percent-30percent Democratic party identification edge in Michigan. This looks like a race either candidate could win.