Is the GOP Energy Committee Chair Going Down in Michigan's 6th?

Fred Upton is the incumbent Republican Congressional Representative for southwest Michigan’s 6th district. Upton is considered to be one of Michigan’s most powerful Republicans. He is the Chair of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, which is an important position in relation to climate change. He has been in the House since being elected in 1986. Most of his elections since then, including after redistricting (when he went from the 4th to the 6th district) were easy wins. In 2012 he was “primaried” by the righter-wing, but still won handily (Wikipedia editors, note that Upton’s Wiki entry seems to have that race still in progress as of this writing).

Although he could be categorized as a moderate Republican, there really is no such thing any more. Since the Tea Party Takeover of the GOP, Upton seems to have voted the new party line most of the time.

This politically motivated adherence to lunacy is reflected in his stance on environmental issues. From Wikipedia:

Upton's website once stated: "I strongly believe that everything must be on the table as we seek to reduce carbon emissions."

In April 2009, he maintained that "climate change is a serious problem that necessitates serious solutions. Everything must be on the table."

However, "Upton has gradually retreated from his moderate stance on climate change and carbon emissions."

In late 2010, he co-authored a Wall Street Journal editorial saying he was "not convinced" that "carbon is a problem in need of regulation," and urging Congress to overturn Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency.

Regarding the regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act being upheld in Federal Appeals court, Upton said that Congress’s refusal to approve greenhouse gas limits constituted a decision and that lawmakers should act now to reverse the United States Environmental Protection Agency emissions rules. Carbon regulation “threatens to drive energy prices higher, destroy jobs and hamstring our economic recovery,” per Upton.

Due to his environmental policies, the Los Angeles Times wrote in 2011 that Upton "represents one of the biggest threats to planet Earth on planet Earth."

In 2007 Upton was a co-sponsor of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 which among other things mandated phased-in energy efficiency standards for most light bulbs. At the time, Upton noted that the legislation, ultimately signed into law by President George W. Bush, would "help preserve energy resources and reduce harmful emissions, all while saving American families billions of dollars on their electric bills."...

But in 2010, after Glenn Beck called Upton "all socialist" for supporting the bill, Upton led a failed effort to stop Obama from enforcing the new energy standards.

(See the original entry for sources.)

So, he’s won every re-election campaign by double digits, started out as a Reasonable Republican on climate change but then, following instructions from Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck, shifted to the right. Though he has occasionally demonstrated a wide stance on the topic, it appears he can be easily slapped into place.

This year, Upton is being challenged by Paul Clements. Clements is a professor at Western Michigan University. He has done well with fundraising, including quite a bit from outside the district. It is said that he is running an excellent campaign.

A quick look at Real Clear Politics shows nothing on this race. That is an indicator that it was assumed to be settled. Publicly available polling (or, for that matter, useful private polling) in House races rarely happens when the presumed distance between the major candidates is double digit.

But now there is a poll, and it indicates a possible upset.

Clement’s campaign released a poll showing Clements within about 4 points of Upton (43-47%, with 10% undecided). The margin of error includes the spread, so it is a statistically dead heat.

According to the pollsters,

The race in Michigan Congressional District 6 has narrowed significantly in recent weeks, as voters have learned more about the negative aspects of Fred Upton’s tenure in Congress, and have been introduced to a viable alternative in Democrat Paul Clements. Additionally, political gaffes by Upton have brought scrutiny to this long-term incumbent who has never faced a credible challenger in a district that Barack Obama won in 2008 and trailed Mitt Romney by only 1.4 percentage points in 2012. Paul Clements has momentum in the closing days of the campaign, in what has turned out to be the most competitive congressional race in Michigan, for a seat that many thought was safe for Republicans

Numerically, the gap has closed in part because undecided are deciding (see graph) and partly because both candidate’s numbers are moving.

It is possible that messages will be sent.

A near loss is predicted to encourage Upton to retire. An actual loss is a slap in the face to the Republican Party’s leadership, given Upton’s position on the Energy committee. People will then argue over whether this was Upton’s loss or Clements’ win.

What are the “gaffes” mentioned by the pollsters? This is not entirely clear.

Clements is being supported, or perhaps more accurately, Upton is being opposed, by the Silicon Valley Mayday Pac. It is claimed that Upton’s people have pressured the pac donors, with the suggestion that they will have some trouble from Washington if they keep contributing to the effort to oust Upton, if Upton survives. That sounds inappropriate and all, but it also sounds kind of typical. This sort of thing is one of the reasons, of course, that we need campaign finance reform.

(As an aside, I find it interesting that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has not been in this game. I agree with Mark Miller, the Democratic district chair, who is quoted as saying “[The 6th District is] the most Democratic seat in Michigan that's held by a Republican. Why the DCCC has been unwilling to invest in this district is perplexing." But I digress.)

Do you want to get involved in this race, and possibly help affect the outcome? Check this out, a note I just got this from Climate Hawks Vote:

Something is happening on the ground in a small corner of Michigan. For weeks I've been hearing that people are fed up with Fred Upton and just tired of his allegiance to Big Oil. He's ducking voters - he canceled a prescheduled debate with climate hawk Paul Clements to attend a prescheduled DC hearing, and canceled a NAACP appearance. DC papers are asking: is Michigan's most powerful Republican really in political danger?

Climate Hawks Vote got into this race for the same reason we're in every race: a powerful Republican (the chair of the House Energy & Commerce committee, no less!) denying science and blocking progress, a good climate hawk sending a message, and a potentially winnable race. How winnable? Every other climate/environmental group wrote it off as a longshot. But day after day, our Benton Harbor field organizer reports: "everyone's voting for Clements." "Upton drifted too far right." "Time for a change."

So we're going all in.

If you're local - including South Bend, Indiana - come to our candidate forum Wednesday, October 29 at the Pilgrim Rest Church, 1105 East Main St., Benton Harbor, which we're cosponsoring with the local NAACP chapter. Meet Paul Clements, because everyone who meets him ends up deciding to vote for him, and other candidates. Then #TurnOutForWhat - a voter rally! - on Friday, October 31 from 3:30 to 6 PM at the Citadel, 91 Hinkley St., Benton Harbor. (Sorry, no extra treats for dressing as a big spill in the Kalamazoo River.) Wear your walking shoes and your brightest smile to both. Can't make either, but time this weekend? We've got doors to knock and people to call. Reply to this email, and we'll find something for you to do.

Not so local? This is my last donation request of the 2014 campaign season. Money raised goes to pay organizers canvassing on the ground this weekend in Michigan. Talons-on-the-ground field operations won primaries in Hawaii and Arizona. I'm proud of the successful grassroots organization we're building with your help. Thank you.


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I'm in Upton's region. I'm not convinced he's in trouble (although I'm convinced he should be) for one reason: Clement is essentially invisible in political advertising. I'm not sure of the reason.

The description of Upton's drift to the right is (imo) accurate. He was known, in the past, to say and do reasonable things, and I was able to vote for him because the people who ran against him did not inspire either my interest or my confidence. His shift seemed to start with the presence of the current president, and he followed the general drift to the "OMG Obama is going to communismize the country" that much of the right wing took. One oddity though: even as he's move farther and farther away from environmental concern, which he once demonstrated, he's continued to voice concern about safety issues at the nuclear power plant in Bridgeman (Palisades plant). He hasn't been screaming "close it" but neither has he overlooked, or blatantly excused, the recent problems there. Perhaps it is because it is near his hometown, perhaps he really is concerned. I can't tell.

Whatever - I won't be voting for him, but I don't expect him to lose either.

Want to see something horrifying? Look at the proposed, and in-process, House of Representatives' various Bills in the science, energy, and technology committee (113rd Congress).

H.R.4012 for example, where the America Treason Party member is insisting that the Environmental Protection Act has "secret science" that it is "hiding," and the Act would make it against the law to continue "hiding" the "secret science." No, really: it's sponsored by 52 Republican Party so-called "state representatives."

Or look at H.R. 4553. It is a proposed Bill that is asking the USA tax-payers to increase the subsidies to the petroleum industry by another $734,000,000 in year 2015. The Bill states that the money give-away is designed to "encourage" the petroleum industry to sell more fossil fuels (and, incidentally, fund the Bill's sponsor's next political office campaign).

There are some Bills that are designed to fund research on ocean acidification, which is the plus side. The negative side is that the pro-science bills are unlikely to be funded if The America Treason Party takes over the legislative branch.

By Desertphile (not verified) on 29 Oct 2014 #permalink

Dean, do you watch regular TV at all? I ask because we had a major race here in the primaries, and the candidate with all the money spent over a half a million and all I saw were mailers, just a few. Then I turned on the regular TV (instead of netflix, etc.) for a minute and it was ALL ADS from this guy ALL THE TIME.

I don't watch a lot of television: often, if I have spare time, I'm with my dog, my camera, or both, in one of the wooded areas near here hiking and relaxing.
But I do watch regular tv, and while I see a lot of ads for Upton, I believe I could count on one hand the number I've seen for his opponent. We've gotten many mailings for Upton and none for Clement.

I will add this: it is conceivable that there have been more ads for Clement than I remember, but they don't register with me as being for him - which is probably worse since, as I said, I intend to vote for him.

My brother did tech work for the Obama re-election campaign and said the reason Democrats won that election was because they were infinitely more tech savvy than the Republicans. He said they didn't just have neighborhoods targeted for get out the vote, nor even households. He said they knew person by person within households whom they needed to get to and make sure they got to the polls on election day. (The word was, do whatever is necessary. Drive them to the polls, feed their cat, bake them a cake, whatever.) They didn't waste time even knocking at the house next door where they knew their likely vote.

Clemens may be tapped into that same level of detail. It's extremely efficient. It requires fewer expensive ads, fewer people on the ground, fewer people making calls, etc.

The other thing he said was, they had a statistical model that included far more data than even Nate Silver's giving them a very tight picture of the race as it developed.

This could be an interesting election cycle. Nate Silver is projecting a take over of the Senate. We'll see if his numbers hold as well as they did in 2012.

One other note. In the 2012 Presidential election you could see how clueless the Republicans were. The polling data they were quoting at the time was on par with base level climate denial. Wrong stuff, stated with confidence, that made them feel better.

By Rob Honeycutt (not verified) on 29 Oct 2014 #permalink

I had the news on while I was doing dishes. There was an ad detailing all of the ways Upton is "against" people in Michigan, saying we can't afford to have him stay in office, but it did not mention the name of an opponent. Some out of state pac paid for it. Those are the types of ads I'm noticing.
Clements' has that poll on his Facebook page (the one you reference). Sample size is 400, which is small, even for this neck of the woods.

That is where the money is coming in. That is Silicon Valley Pac money.

That is a normal sample size for a congressional district poll and yields a +/- of about 5%.

Rob, yes, that is how we do it! The polling data is not to be found in congressional races, but the GOTV, canvassing, etc. can be very high tech, and the Dems are better at that because we believe in things like electrons and software.

That is a normal sample size for a congressional district poll and yields a +/- of about 5%.

That may be (and I use survey results as examples in my classes). I'm still not impressed with the sample size, common as it may be.

The sample size is derived from basic probability theory. There is really nothing wrong with the sample size.

Polling is a science, it produces results that have meaning that can be understood in terms of probability. It generally works pretty well.

Keep in mind that getting 400 responses means making over 5,000 calls, most likely.

Greg, yes, I understand that - I am a statistician (which you wouldn't know, clearly: my specialty is robust regression methods, not survey design or sampling, but this case is, as you say, really elementary).
My comment is not generated by lack of understanding.
I hope things work out for Clement, but the mood in this part of the state is really conservative - really conservative. I don't know enough about the company that did the survey to judge its reliability.

[The 6th District is] the most Democratic seat in Michigan that’s held by a Republican. Why the DCCC has been unwilling to invest in this district is perplexing.

I don't have hard numbers handy, but my impression is that the DCCC doesn't have a good track record for predicting pick-up opportunities. Where I live (NH-01), they gave zero support in 2006 to Carol Shea-Porter, who won that race.

FWIW, I haven't seen any polling on either NH congressional race, even though these are two of the most competitive districts in the country (both flipped from R to D in 2006, back to R in 2010, and back to D in 2012). I avoid watching TV as much as I can (our media market is Boston, so I'd be stuck with Massachusetts as well as New Hampshire political ads). And I live in one of the bluest towns in the state, so I know that what my neighbors think is not representative of the state as a whole.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 04 Nov 2014 #permalink

Eric, I agree completely.

I once asked someone who knows how the DCCC is organized, who staffs it, etc. I was not impressed. Mostly younger folks starting out cutting their teeth working out this stuff. They probably don't even smoke cigars.

For what it is worth: voter turnout at my voting place was much heavier than usual, at least by 8 when I went in. I stopped at 7:15 but the line was far out the door, and the dog was in the car. When I voted I was number (something noticeably larger than 100). The line behind me was to the door - much busier than it was for the last presidential election.

I don't know what it meant, or why it happened. I had hope it meant a strong turnout for the Democratic party, but that didn't occur here. Upton won handily, as did our governor, despite some serious issues being pointed out in what he's said versus what he's done.

Locally it was mixed. Local school districts did get some continuing funding renewed despite some heavy attacks in the media, but a guy who, in a campaign survey lied and said he'd never been arrested when, in fact, had been convicted of drunk driving, was elected to a state House seat "on the strength of his character". I don't even pretend to understand that.