Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) avoided a perilous primary challenge Sunday when neighboring Rep. Hansen Clarke paved the way for the two Michigan Democrats to essentially swap congressional districts ahead of their reelection bids.
The maneuvering came less than two weeks after Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law a new congressional map that carved up both Conyers’ and Clarke’s districts in a way that had them each representing many of the others’ constituents — a dynamic that led several Democrats to eye a primary against Conyers. But Clarke, a freshman, announced Sunday that he would run in the 14th District now held by Conyers — something Conyers had been quietly pushing for behind the scenes for weeks.
Here's the map. "Mr Monica" Conyers is in the Palmer Park neighborhood on Detroit's Northwest side. It's in that stretch of the 14th north of Highland Park. The old district was more of a West Side district. Clarke's in the 13th, but will be running in the 14th. He's on Detroit's East side, and a lot of the 14th represents that area. It's not a controversial carpetbagger type of move with their West/East side histories.
I think this is very significant though in regards to the primary. A Democrat will win these districts barring a Bill Jefferson type of situation, but these districts are now about 55% VRA minority districts instead of 65%+ districts. It is conceivable that a non-Detroit candidate, or even a white candidate, can win those districts.
That's more likely in the 14th, with Oakland County and the Grosse Pointes both in that district, being hostile to certain Detroit candidates. Conyers is more outspoken and is perceived as more confrontational in style than Clarke, and is choosing the district strictly in Wayne County and without the Pointes. His primary path is - at least right now, easier than Clarke's. Clarke will have a tougher path on paper, but I think he'd do better in Oakland/Pointes than Conyers. The Pointes lean republican, but will often vote in Democrat primaries in non gubernatorial elections. The state rep seat there is competitive, but the other districts are solidly democrat. They don't like "Mr Monica" Conyers. They didn't like the Barbara Rose Collins. They didn't like Kwame Kilpatrick, and took it out on his mom. Hansen Clarke isn't in that category as far as I know. Conservatives don't like his voting record, but they don't like the voting record of Gary Peters either. These potential primaries are more about style, corruption, and attitude than the actual voting records.
Brenda Lawrence, Southfield mayor, may be running in Clarke's district. Gary Peters (lives in 9th, next door to Pontiac/W.Bloomfield), and Tim Melton (Pontiac or neighboring Auburn Hills) also might run. Another candidate is Bert Johnson, a state senator from the City of Detroit. He planned on running against Conyers, not Clarke. I don't know if he'll change his plans or not. He has won several times as a state legislator though. Other than that, I don't know much about him. I think the biggest factor in how a primary challenge goes will be the mouths of the candidates or their top aides, and how antagonistic each particular candidate is towards suburbs or whitey (not the same thing). With less and less of the district being in Detroit, the key is for there to be a balance in style not ticking off either side too much. This district would favor more Dennis Archer and less Sharon McPhail. That's why I think Clarke would be a much tougher opponent to challenge in this district than "Mr Monica" Conyers. There isn't the level of dislike for Clarke outside of the city as there is for the name Conyers (Or Kilpatrick, Rose-Collins, Coleman A Young). I don't think Peters would win a primary. I think a lot of his core support in Pontiac was due to who he isn't instead of who he is. Melton? Without Auburn Hills, that would be a tougher go for him. Brenda Lawrence would be a very strong challenger however, with Southfield's added significance with Detroit's population drops.
The 13th is more favorable to Conyers with him not having to deal with the Pointes or Oakland County, but it might not be a free pass. He has several white-majority working class suburbs which are democrats and will vote in that party's primary. He wouldn't have to face Brenda Lawrence here, but a guy like Glenn Anderson could give him a tough race. Romulus, Wayne, Westland, Garden City, Inkster, Dearborn Heights, and Redford are all new to the district. Anderson represented Westland, Garden City, and Redford. Will Detroit former state senator Buzz Thomas (depending on where he lives) go for it? He planned on it before and stepped back. I think Conyers is favored to win a primary, but I don't think it will be a cakewalk.
Keep an eye on the primaries here if there are any. While the incumbents are favored, certain candidates running could make this a very interesting race.