|If these rumors are true (let's hope they aren't), is First Read correct in saying that Stupak is the only Democrat who can hold the 1st District? No. As astute as Mark Murray is, he does not know the Upper Peninsula of Michigan like I do. It's true that Bart Stupak is/was extremely popular, but it's not an Ike Skelton-like situation, where the politician's personal popularity is the only thing that keeps him or her from being defeated. In fact, the first district has been consistently more Democratic than the state as a whole in almost every election other than in Presidential elections. The district easily supported Senators Levin and Stabenow, Governor Granholm, and various other Statewide elected officials. It also voted for Obama in 2008, albeit by a less-than overwhelming margin. By my count, there are roughly 6 Democrats who represent a significant portion of the 1st District in the State House of Representatives, compared to only 2 Republicans (only one actually lives in the district). It appears also that the one and only State Senator who lives in the 1st District is a Democrat (although it does overlap two Republican districts). So, in short, as I've said before, the 1st District is not lost without Stupak running, but it will be a tough fight.
I'll now go into some potential candidates on both sides
Mike Prusi (D-Ishpeming) - Mike Prusi is my State Senator. I believe that he could easily win the 1st District seat if he ran. He is perhaps the most popular politician in the Upper Peninsula, having been re-elected with over 70% of the vote in 2006. Whether or not he would run is another story. Certainly there would be pressure from national leaders, but a relative of his who I'm friendly with has told me that he wishes to retire from politics in 2010 as he is termed out of the legislature (this was pre-Stupak retirement rumors; retiring would make sense for Prusi otherwise, he really can't move up any farther). Politically, despite his popularity with Conservative Democrats and many Republicans, Prusi would be a step up from Stupak. He voted against banning partial birth abortion in all cases (can you imagine Stupak doing that?) and in favor of criminalizing discrimination based on sexual orientation. And the Unions LOVE Prusi. He is a former Iron miner and would get tremendous Union Support if he ran. He is also from Marquette County, the districts largest County, and received 78% of the vote here in 2006. A Marquette County candidate could really get the vote out here in what is also the district's most Democratic County. If Stupak does retire, I think in the end Prusi would win. At 60, however, the hard part would be convincing him to run.
Steve Lindberg (D-Marquette) - Steve Lindberg (AKA Stevie L) is my State Rep. as well as my favorite local politician. He represents a fairly large district in the central Upper Peninsula that includes the extremely important Marquette County. Again, it would be beneficial to have a candidate from Marquette County, and Lindberg is very popular here. On the other hand, Lindberg will be 66 on election day, and therefore may not be inclined to start a congressional career so late in life. Lindberg would be a tremendous step up over Stupak politically. He hails from the very liberal City of Marquette and is pro-choice, pro-stem cell research, pro-Medical Marijuana, and very pro-environment. Again, like Prusi, Lindberg would get tremendous Union support as well. One the other hand, being so liberal may hurt him in the rest of the district, which is much more Conservative than Marquette County. Lindberg is also not the best Public Speaker, which could hurt him. I like Lindberg, but he would not be our best candidate for holding the 1st District.
Mike Lahti (D-Hancock) - Mike Lahti is another State Representative from the Upper Peninsula. Unlike the previous two, Lahti is from the more conservative Western U.P. (Houghton County, to be specific). Like his district, Lahti is very conservative. As a result of his conservatism, however, Lahti is very popular in the 110th District. This area is normally a swing area, having gone very narrowly for Obama but comfortably for Bush twice. If Lahti ran, he would certainly run the table in his district, and probably perform well in Marquette County; His conservativism may also resonate well in the Lower Peninsula, which is politically similar to his district. As a liberal and a progressive, however, I really don't want to see someone who is more conservative than Stupak replace him. I would support Lahti in the general election, but only reluctantly. One indication that Lahti may not run, however, is that he has already filed to replace Mike Prusi in the 38th Senate District (Prusi is term limited, remember). Lahti is not opposed by any Democrat as of yet, and would likely move easily up to the Senate, whereas a Congressional Campaign would be more of an up-hill battle. If he did run, however, I suspect Lahti could potentially hold Stupak's seat for the Democrats (or in his case, ConservaDems).
Judy Nerat (D-Wallace) - Judy Nerat is Bart Stupak's State Represenative. She is also a close Stupak ally, and her 2008 win had a lot to do with Congressman Stupak's strong support of her campaign. The 108th District is very heavily Catholic, and like Stupak, Nerat's political views have a lot to do with her Catholicism; She is quite Conservative, and again, like Stupak, she is Pro-Life. Stupak may like to see her move up to Congress, but she's only in her first term in the State House, and has little other political experience. She was also recently diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of cancer. For these reasons I think a Nerat run for Congress is not very likely in the case of an open seat.
There are many other Democrats who may decide to run here, should the above decline. Former Senator Don Koivisto (D-Gogebic) who served from 1990-2002 and who is now the Director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture. Koivisto might be a candidate worth looking at, and he is only 60. Other candidates include former State Rep. and current State House Clerk Rich Brown (D-Bessemer), State Rep. Gary McDowell (D-Rudyard), though McDowell is already running for the State Senate in the 37th District, Former Rep. Matthew Gillard (D-Alpena), Current Rep. Andy Neumann (D-Alpena), former Rep. Steven Adamini (D-Marquette), though Adamini has had some Drunk-driving arrests that wouldn't play well, and Marquette County Commission Chair Gerald Corkin (D-Negaunee).
You may notice that I did not mention already announced candidate Connie Saltonstall. This was intentional. Saltonstall, from my perspective, is far to liberal for the 1st District. Not only that, but she has little political experience. She also hails from the Lower Peninsula, which makes it nearly impossible for her to win (a candiate must have a UP base to win here). I'll do what I can to ensure that Saltonstall is not the nominee, should Stupak retire.
and now for the Republicans:
Tom Casperson (R-Gladstone) - Casperson, who you may remember ran against Stupak in 2008 and epicly failed, is now running for Mike Prusi's State Senate seat. He is a distinct underdog against Mike Lahti, and likely knows this. If Stupak does retire, Casperson may decide to try for Congress again instead. In an open seat he could make a race of it, especially against a lackluster Democrat.
Other potential Republican candidates include State Rep. Kevin Elsenheimer, and....well that's about it for elected officials. There are a few Republicans who've already filed, but they fall into the category of "Some Guy."
So yes, if Stupak does retire, it will be a close race. Probably a tossup. But the seat is not "gone" without Stupak; far from it. There is a deep bench of Democrats who have the potential to retain this seat, as well as a very very shallow bench of Republicans. In any other year, I'd say this race was Leans Democrat, but unfortunately 2010 is shaping up to be a bad year for Dems, so I'm calling it a tossup.