DETROIT — Robert Griffin, now 90, who rose to be second in the Republican U.S. Senate leadership, was defeated in 1978. Since then, only one Michigan Republican, Spencer Abraham in 1994, has been elected to the Senate and for only one term. Evidence that former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land might end this GOP drought is that Democrats are attacking her for opposing “preventive health care.”
This is a phrase Democrats use to include abortion as they try to reprise their 2012 alarms about Republicans’ “war on women,” which began with the martyrdom of Sandra Fluke. She was the Georgetown University law student aggrieved because the Catholic university she chose to attend was not paying for her contraception. The median starting annual salary of Georgetown law graduates entering the private sector is $160,000. Wal-Mart sells a month’s worth of birth control pills for $9.
In the almost half-century since Lyndon Johnson’s flood of Great Society legislation, Democrats have had one significant new idea, Obamacare, which many Democrats consider one too many. Hence their reliance on the specter of Republican hostility to persons with two X chromosomes.
Land is delighted to have Democrats raising the subject of “preventive” or other health care. It is one topic of about $5 million of Michigan ads by the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity. In one, a woman addresses Land’s opponent, Democratic Rep. Gary Peters:
“My name is Julie Boonstra and five years ago I was diagnosed with leukemia. I found out that I only have a 20 percent chance of surviving. I found this wonderful doctor and a great health care plan. I was doing fairly well fighting the cancer, fighting the leukemia, and then I received the letter. My insurance was canceled because of Obamacare.”
Another ad features a woman who believes Obamacare is waging a war on her: “We have five kids. ... Our health insurance plan was canceled because of Obamacare. ... This new plan is not affordable at all. My husband is working a lot more hours just to pay for these new increases. I’m frustrated that government has caused this huge problem for our family.”
“We,” says Land, her Michigan chauvinism undiminished by this city’s collapse, “are the state that created the middle class.” High wages for autoworkers — higher than the companies could sustain — and employee discounts for cars enabled people to buy homes, then cottages and boats at nearby lakes. Now Obamacare — many Michiganders have had health plans canceled — is fueling middle-class insecurity.
Peters opposes the Keystone XL pipeline and favors cap-and-trade climate legislation that Land says jeopardizes the revival of Michigan’s manufacturing economy. Peters, a former state senator, has won three congressional elections. Land, having won statewide twice, is better known, and as secretary of state she concentrated on improving an experience most Americans dread — interacting with the department of motor vehicles.
In some recent polls she has a small lead in what may remain a close race. She has less to fear than Republicans used to have from Detroit’s Democratic vote. The city’s population has plunged from 1.8 million to 700,000 and today’s Democratic mayor wields a much diminished political machine while an emergency manager is in place. Only 3 percent of Michiganders live in the Upper Peninsula but in a close race they could provide the margin of victory for Land. The UP’s conservatism can be distilled in six words: “I’m up here, don’t bother me.”
Land represents Republicans’ most effective response to Democrats’ hyperventilating about the “war on women” — female candidates. It will be amusing to see such rhetoric tried in Iowa, where Joni Ernst, a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard who served in Iraq, is seeking the Republican Senate nomination. She says in an ad: “I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm. So when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork.” She rides a Harley and in a recent Des Moines Register column she said, “Those who know me well know that I carry a black purse everywhere I go. What many people don’t know is what’s inside: a Smith and Wesson 9 mm and my concealed carry permit.”
Many Democrats seem to prefer the sensibility of Fluke, a professional victim and virtuoso whiner. Michigan’s electorate, which has produced today’s Republican governor and Legislature, may be ready, by electing a Republican senator for the third time in 42 years, to show what they think of “war on women” hysterics as a substitute for thought.
George Will is a nationally syndicated columnist.