ESCANABA - Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lon Johnson was in Escanaba this week as part of his U.P. winter tour in preparation for what he believes will be an exciting campaign season.
"We're getting ready for the campaign this fall. We've got a lot on the ticket," said Johnson Monday.
On the ticket this November are a United States House race for the seat held by Republican incumbent Dan Benishek, the gubernatorial race between Gov. Rick Snyder and Democratic challenger Mark Schauer, the state House race between Republican Rep. Ed McBroom and Democrat Justin Zirkle, and the state Senate race for Republican incumbent Tom Casperson's seat.
"What we're doing at the party is really about building an operation where we can go out and start winning at the state level ... We continuously win at the federal level, but we're not winning at the state and we're trying to change that," said Johnson.
"It starts with starting earlier. We've got to fight everywhere, and we've got to get turnout to vote," he added.
Voter turnout in off-year elections has been a major challenge for the Democratic Party in Michigan, according to Johnson. The party has identified 995,000 Democrats that typically do not vote in off-year elections.
"Nearly a million Democrats did not vote in 2010," he said.
Johnson believes the First Congressional District will be a battleground as both parties eye Benishek's seat.
"There's a lot of national attention to be paid by both the Republicans and the Democrats on this congressional seat. It's one that we have on our map and will stay on our map," he said. "We couldn't be more thrilled to have Jerry Cannon as our candidate."
Johnson sees the veteran and retired sheriff as a candidate that can achieve bipartisan results if elected.
"We think Jerry will continue on in that same tradition that we saw out of, say, Congressman (Bart) Stupak or Sen. (Carl) Levin and Sen. (Debbie) Stabenow. Creating that ... bipartisan reach that gets things done," said Johnson.
"Washington is broken. It is being run by a group of extremists that are gridlocking that town, and Benishek is part of that and it is time for him to go. It's time to put people like Jerry in, with common sense solutions and a bipartisan ability," he added.
For the party as a whole, Johnson said the goal is to find good candidates and address the concerns of constituents.
"Our first strategy is get good candidates. You need good candidates: Honest, (with) integrity; hardworking. Second we've got to talk about issues that matter to voters: Jobs, the economy, education; building a state where they can stay and succeed," said Johnson.
He also encouraged voters to individually evaluate if the changes they have experienced under Republican leadership have been positive.
"Is the economy getting better for them? Are the classrooms any less crowded? Are there more jobs? Are the roads better? Is their pay going up? No. It's just not working. We've given them a shot. We've given a Republican governor and Casperson a shot and they failed to produce."
The Democratic Party would like to reverse a number of policies created under Gov. Snyder's lead including reversing cuts to education funding and repealing the senior pension tax and Right to Work.
"I just would ask the people of Northern Michigan to take a look at our candidates and ask themselves who would do a better job building, creating a U.P. where they can stay and succeed," said Johnson. "(The Republican's) vision is giving tax breaks to wealthy corporations, paid for by cutting schools and taxing seniors. Our vision is investing in and protecting our greatest assets: Our people, our land, our great lakes."