It could be a competitive race for Michigan’s 104th house seat this coming election. The district covers Grand Traverse County. Republicans have held this seat firmly for at least 20 years.
It first became evident after the primary election in August. Both Grand Traverse County’s Rep. Larry Inman (R-Traverse City) and Democratic candidate Dan O’Neil both ran unchallenged.
"And what we saw was Dan O’Neil and Larry Inman basically got the same amount of votes," says Kyle Melinn, an editor for MIRS – or Michigan Information Research Service.
Both candidates got over 11,000 votes. Inman landed 11,769 votes; O'Neil got 11,678. This was a typical turnout for Republicans in the district. But Democrats haven’t even come close to that over past 20 years at least. They usually get around 4,000 votes in the primary.
"I mean what a drastic change," says Melinn. "The enthusiasm is just markedly different. To go from just 4,500 votes just two years ago to 11,000, that’s just something that is quite unusual."
And that’s one reason Melinn says there’s a chance the 104th district could go to the Democrats this year. He wrote an article for MIRS this August naming the 104th as one of the top 15 house seats most likely to flip.
Why Democratic turnout was high
Rep. Inman attributes the Democratic turnout to one main thing: Matt Morgan’s write-in campaign. He’s the Democrat running for the U.S. 1st congressional seat. He had to run a write-in campaign after an issue with his election paperwork. That meant he needed voters to turn up in August so he could get on the November ballot. And they did, 7,153 voters wrote in his name in Grand Traverse County.
"Other than that I didn’t read too much more into it," says Inman.
O’Neil agrees Morgan had something to do with it.
“But I do sincerely believe that its reflective of the energy in the community for change," says O'Neil.
“What we’re seeing across the state is that there’s a big push among educated, suburban women to get out and vote who maybe have not been that active politically in the past, who are just really ticked off that they’ve got a perceived misogynist as their president," says Melinn.
He says this is particularly true in Grand Traverse and Oakland counties.
Inman says he's not Trump. He's been a politician in Grand Traverse County for more than 20 years - first as county commissioner, then as state representative for the past four years.
"If you have a beef with him, don’t take it out on me because I’m a different person," he says.
Inman says he does not agree with the president’s style, but Trump’s policies are working.
O'Neil outraises Inman
O’Neil grew up in Traverse City and has been practicing law in Michigan for over 30 years. He's never run for public office, but he’s pretty good at raising money. That’s another reason Kyle Melinn thinks the 104th could be a competitive race.
"This year, Dan O’Neil is making things a lot more interesting," says Melinn. "He raised more money than just about anyone running for the house in the state. I think there was about three or four people who may have raised more than him."
According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, O’Neil has raised $137,917 during the campaign. That number was last updated August 27. He’s actually outraised Inman by about $60,000. It’s unusual for a challenger to outraise an incumbent.
"The sad truth is in this current political climate, money amplifies your voice," says O'Neil.
He says for the first time in a while - maybe ever - the Democrats in the 104th will have money to spend on TV and radio ads.
But Inman doesn’t seem that phased; he says he still has plenty of time to raise money.
"My fundraising is pretty consistent from my previous two elections as a state representative," he says.
Chances of flipping the district
Even though Melinn says this race is very competitive, he says Inman still has the upper hand.
"I think in any race the incumbent usually has a little bit of an advantage," he says.
And Inman says he feels positive about the upcoming election.
"I have a success story of everything I said I would do and what I got done, and that’s what people care about," he says.
But he adds, you always have to be worried about every election and not take it for granted.