Levin's retirement gives GOP rare shot at Senate

U.S. Sen. Carl Levin's decision not to seek another term gives Michigan Republicans the chance to prove they can win a Senate election, while Democrats are left scrambling to keep a seat that has not been closely contested since the Detroit Tigers last won the World Series in 1984.

Levin's announcement is expected to spark a frenzy of interest from candidates and parties. The outcome of the 2014 race will play a role in Michigan's clout in Congress, the battle for control of the 100-member Senate and possibly even Gov. Rick Snyder's re-election prospects.

"This offers the opportunity for a huge field," said Lansing-based political analyst Bill Ballenger.

Much of the early focus is on the state's congressional delegation, where at least five members are considered possible candidates to move to the upper chamber. GOP Reps. Justin Amash, Dave Camp and Mike Rogers are being mentioned as well as Democrats Gary Peters and Dan Kildee.

Peters, who represents the bellwether county north of Detroit, told The Associated Press Friday that is he is "very interested" in running for Senate.

"It is absolutely critical that Democrats hold this seat," he said, calling himself a battle-tested campaigner who has won three difficult races. "People don't win statewide without winning Oakland County, and that's my political base."

The three-term congressman said he would make a decision within weeks after talking with his family. He said the chance to move up within House leadership does "somewhat change with an open Senate seat."

Some other Democrats interested in running are national committeewoman Debbie Dingell, the wife of long-time Rep. John Dingell, and University of Michigan regent Mark Bernstein, part of a well-known family of plaintiffs' lawyers. Former Gov. Jennifer Granholm also is being mentioned. She could not be reached Friday.

One Republican to express interest was former two-term Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, who previously considered running against Sen. Debbie Stabenow.

"The idea that you have to be (in Washington) 100 years to be effective has gone out the window," she said, saying she was excited by the way Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul's 13-hour filibuster energized other newer senators. "Those are the ones making a difference."

Land, a Republican national committeewoman, said her decision on whether to run will depend in part on who else jumps into the race. With more voters identifying themselves as independents, she said, they want lawmakers who "can get something done."

Another interested candidate is Scott Romney, older brother of presidential candidate Mitt Romney, according to a state GOP official. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about specific candidates.

GOP Rep. Candice Miller, a former secretary of state, said Friday she will not run for Senate. Other Republicans to rule out a bid were 2012 Senate candidate and charter schools founder Clark Durant, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, former Attorney General Mike Cox, and Amway heir and 2006 gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos.

A message was left for another potential candidate, Delta Air Lines executive and University of Michigan regent Andrea Fischer Newman.

Levin's departure puts Democrats at a disadvantage as they already are looking for someone to challenge the governor and take back control of a state government dominated by the GOP. But Democrats also have fared well in federal elections in a state that has gone for Democrats in six straight presidential races.

Just one Republican has won a Michigan Senate seat in 40 years, Spencer Abraham in 1994, a non-presidential year like 2014 will be. The last close race was in 2000, when Debbie Stabenow defeated Abraham.

"It's a tremendous opportunity for Republicans. This is like a once-in-decades opportunity," said Stu Sandler, a GOP consultant in Ann Arbor. "There's a pretty strong bench out there."

Amash, a second-term conservative adored by tea party groups, was removed from a committee assignment in December after casting votes defying party leadership. If he won the primary, some Republicans worry he would not appeal to independent voters in the general election.

A message was left for Amash. He tweeted Friday that the Michigan GOP "can't put up an unelectable establishment candidate for Senate who doesn't appeal to independent & moderate voters on federal issues."

Democratic consultant Joe DiSano in Lansing said Peters right now is the Democratic front-runner.

"He can raise money. He's the most tenacious and seasoned campaigner. He's survived in extremely tough Oakland County," he said.

Republicans say Levin's departure is good news for Snyder, whose popularity has waned after signing a right-to-work law in December, because Democrats have to focus on the Senate. Democrats counter that Michigan now will receive national attention due to the Senate race, boosting fundraising for the gubernatorial challenger and excitement for Democratic voters to turn out in a non-presidential election.

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Email David Eggert at deggert(at)ap.org and follow him at http://twitter.com/DavidEggert00

Enlargephoto

FILE - In this Feb. 26, 2013, file photo, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. Levin said Thursday, March 7, he will not seek re-election in 2014. He says he wants to do his job as Senate Armed Services chairman and as an advocate for his home state "without the distraction of campaigning for re-election." (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)