(1) A MUST-WIN FOR OBAMA
No Republican presidential nominee has won in Michigan since George H.W. Bush in 1988. If Mitt Romney breaks his party's losing streak, it will be a very bad sign for President Barack Obama, who easily carried the state four years ago. Polls consistently have shown Obama ahead, but narrowly.
Obama is counting on gratitude from the state that benefited most from his administration's rescue of General Motors and Chrysler, which Romney opposed. The president also needs strong support from women, blacks and organized labor — historically key groups in the Democratic coalition.
Romney has emphasized his personal ties to the state; he grew up in Michigan, where his father, George Romney, served as governor and was president of American Motors Corp.
(2) STABENOW LOOKS STRONG
Sen. Debbie Stabenow appears likely to win a third term, as pre-election polls have shown her with double-digit leads. Republican challenger Pete Hoekstra insists he's getting a late surge of support.
Hoekstra, a former nine-term member of the U.S. House who retired in 2010 and ran unsuccessfully for governor, has struggled to overcome a fundraising disadvantage and find weaknesses in Stabenow's record to exploit. In a recent television ad, he blames her for the two sides' failure to schedule debates and proclaims she's "nowhere to be found." Actually, she's easily found — in a barrage of commercials boasting of her leadership of the Senate Agriculture Committee and sponsorship of legislation to crack down on unfair Chinese trading practices.
Still, don't count Hoekstra out. As he's quick to point out, he came from nowhere in 1992 to upset former Rep. Guy Vander Jagt in the GOP primary.
(3) HOUSE SEATS IN PLAY
It's getting tougher to dislodge a member of the U.S. House. A huge pool of donors and favorable district mapping are among the many advantages of incumbency. But Democrats believe two of Michigan's Republican-held seats are ripe for takeover.
In the 1st District, which includes the Upper Peninsula and the northern swath of the Lower Peninsula, it's a rematch between freshman Rep. Dan Benishek and former state legislator Gary McDowell. Benishek, a surgeon from Crystal Falls, won handily two years ago in his first bid for elective office with support from tea party groups, but some constituents since have grown concerned about his strict budget-cutting ways.
A bizarre turn of events created a wide-open race in the 11th District, which includes parts of Oakland and Wayne counties. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, a five-term Republican, resigned after failing to produce enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Now the race is between Republican Kerry Bentivolio, a reindeer farmer and Santa Claus impersonator with libertarian views, and little-known Democratic physician Syed Taj.
(4) BALLOT INITIATIVES GALORE
Instead of their usual faceoffs around the bargaining table, organized labor and management are battling at the polls.
The crowded state ballot includes a half-dozen policy initiatives, five of which would amend the Michigan Constitution. Among them are several measures pushed by unions, including a guarantee of collective bargaining rights for public and private employees and permission for home health care workers to form unions. Voters also will decide whether to keep a law allowing appointment of emergency managers with power to tear up labor contracts in struggling cities.
Other measures would order electric utilities to generate one-quarter of their power from renewable sources by 2025, make tax increases contingent on supermajority votes and require a public vote before state money can be spent on any new bridge or tunnel between Michigan and Canada.
(5) HOUSE SPEAKER IN PERIL?
Democrats hope to narrow the gap with Republicans in the state House after losing the majority during the tea party wave two years ago, but odds are long for retaking control. With Republicans holding a 64-46 edge, Democrats would need a net gain of 10 seats to regain the majority.
But they could snare a consolation prize. House Speaker Jase Bolger has been criticized for his involvement in former Democratic Rep. Roy Schmidt's decision to change parties, and a judge is investigating whether charges should be filed.
Bolger, of Marshall, still is the man to beat in his GOP-leaning district, where he's being challenged by Democrat Bill Farmer. But the speaker can't take re-election for granted.