Voting history, lingering controversy could be responsible for Ouimet defeat
The local conventional wisdom was that Republican State Rep. Mark Ouimet was a favorite to beat Saline Mayor and Democrat Gretchen Driskell in the 52nd District race. instead, Driskell won by a 53 percent to 47 percent margin. This wasn’t really as surprising as it seemed.
Ouimet was first elected to the seat in 2010, beating Democrat Christine Green by about 3.5 percent. Since then, the district was made more Republican, removing parts of the City of Ann Arbor and adding more township area. Ouimet seemed like a clear favorite.
In fact, the district is not as GOP-friendly as it appeared. Using the method that most Michigan politicos use — looking at the party vote for the low-visibility state “education posts” (State Board of Ed., U-M Regents, etc.), the district only has a 3 to 4 percent Republican tilt.
In 2008, however, President Barack Obama carried the area constituting the new district by a 55 percent to 45 percent margin over John McCain. Ouimet was helped in 2010 by a GOP wave that swept the country and the state. He didn’t have that help this time.
What is surprising is how poorly Ouimet performed this year. A local incumbent, running in a district which favors his party, usually runs ahead of a nonincumbent at the top of his ticket. Ouimet ran somewhat behind. While Obama won the district 52 percent to 48 percent, Driskell won it by 53 percent to 47 percent , with a raw-vote margin of 860 votes greater than Obama’s. She led Obama significantly in her home city of Saline and neighboring Lodi Township, while trailing him by a fair number of votes in Ouimet’s home Scio Township. The pattern was mixed in the rest of the district.
What explains Ouimet’s relatively poor showing? It could be the perception that he mostly voted in line with the State House GOP’s business tax cuts and reductions in education spending. He also may have suffered lingering effects from the controversies surrounding his campaign in 2010 — his receipt, and subsequent repayment, of more than $14,000 in excess compensation as a Washtenaw County Commissioner and questions about the validity of a graduate degree that he claimed at that time.