The heavy losses suffered by Michigan Democrats in November have some party activists backing Detroit television producer Ron Scott for party chairman even as 16-year incumbent Mark Brewer looks to be headed for his ninth two-year term.
A member of the Democratic State Central Committee and longtime Detroit activist, Scott accuses Brewer of failing to get the Democratic base fired up in the 2010 election, letting Republicans sweep elections for governor and top statewide seats and take control of the Michigan Supreme Court and state House of Representatives. Republicans also increased their lead in the state Senate and won two congressional seats that had been held by Democrats.
"I'm very concerned . . . that if we continue the leadership track that we have, that we're not going to do as well as we can in the next election," said Scott, 63. "We can't match them (Republicans) dollar for dollar, but we can match them foot for foot, and we can beat them."
Still, Brewer is all but guaranteed re-election when Democrats hold their state convention Saturday at Detroit's Cobo Center. He said he has the track record to lead the party to success in two years, when President Barack Obama and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow are up for re-election. And he said no one expected hundreds of thousands of Democratic voters in Michigan to sit out the last election, something he doesn't think will be a problem when Obama is on the ticket again.
Many party regulars plan to back him, although none wanted to publicly comment before the convention. The leaders of one major Democratic player, the United Auto Workers, appear lukewarm about keeping Brewer. But they haven't suggested a replacement.
"People are welcome to run," said Brewer, 55, of Macomb County's Clinton Township. "I've been out campaigning and talking about my plans for the future, winning elections in 2012."
Republicans just elected a new chairman, state GOP finance chairman Bobby Schostak, to take over as Ron Weiser stepped down. The party has gone through a succession of leaders while Democrats have stuck with Brewer.
Although Scott sits on the executive board of the Democratic committee for the 14th District as well as the state committee, his supporters mostly are in Detroit. Despite grumbling by some elected officials and grass-roots activists, no strong challenger with statewide credibility has stepped forward to take on Brewer.
Wayne State University law professor Jocelyn Benson briefly considered running, but decided such a partisan position might be a negative if she runs again for secretary of state. Party activist Isaac Robinson denied he was running after a website popped up promoting his candidacy.
During the sixteen years Brewer has been at the helm of the state party, Michigan hasn't voted for a Republican presidential candidate, Democrat Jennifer Granholm won two terms as governor and a Democrat took Republican Justice Clifford Taylor's place on the Michigan Supreme Court in 2008, thanks in part to television ads run by the party that accused Taylor of sleeping on the bench, an allegation Taylor denied.
But 2010 wasn't a good year for Democrats in Michigan or nationally.
Some Democrats have tried to pin the blame on Brewer for the string of defeats, arguing that spending less on Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero's unsuccessful gubernatorial bid and more into races for secretary of state, attorney general, Supreme Court justice and state House seats might have given the Democrats at least one victory.
But Brewer has the support of other party activists who say many of the spending decisions were made by the biggest donors, including the UAW, who wanted the money put into the governor's race.
With new lines being drawn for congressional and legislative districts after the 2010 census, some Democrats see even more reason to keep Brewer in place. Republicans control the governorship, Legislature and the state Supreme Court, so it's likely more districts are going to tilt Republican. Brewer, who holds a law degree from Harvard, has been through many redistricting fights and is expected to do what he can to limit the GOP's influence.
Brewer acknowledges the party faces a tough climb, but says the Democratic voters who stayed home last November should be more energized in a presidential election year. He also thinks the Democratic message will be the one that resonates with voters in 2012.
"We want to stress that we're the party focused on jobs," he said.