Republican Senate candidates have been holding the firewall in the most high-profile races around the country: Joni Ernst in Iowa, Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, Cory Gardner in Colorado. But one Republican Senate candidate in Michigan is doing exactly the opposite -- getting disowned by her own party.
If the Democrats hold the Senate, Republicans might be tempted to lay part of the blame at the feet of the floundering Terri Lynn Land for failing to win a vulnerable seat that could have secured a Senate majority.
The critics of Land’s campaign have turned harsher recently, accusing Land of ignoring the normally requisite advance notice given before public appearances, and of ducking the press any time she feels threatened by its line of questioning, among other problems.
The Land campaign does not advertise her campaign events on its website ahead of time.
Even more damning is that critics, including some Republicans, have declared her campaign dead.
After U.S. News called her campaign “invisible” last month, commentators have taken it one step further: just this past weekend, conservative radio host Frank Beckmann published an “autopsy” of Land’s campaign in the Detroit News—three weeks before Election Day.
Earlier this month, the National Republican Senatorial Committee pulled almost a million dollars from Land’s campaign.
Bill Ballenger, a former Republican state representative and senator and the editor of the Inside Michigan Politics newsletter, told ABC News that no one in Michigan had guessed Land was going to be “as inept and inarticulate as she’s proven to be.”
“You’re just assuming that everybody thought a year ago: it’s just a matter of getting a strong candidate to run, and that the Republicans could pick up this seat,” he added. “But everyone backed away, and they’re left with Terri Land.”
“I think Terri’s a strong candidate, and it’s important to understand she’s won statewide twice, and those were years when Democrats were doing better,” Land campaign spokesman Joe Kildea said. “We have a wonderful working relationship with the Michigan Republican Party.”
The fuel in the fire has been Land’s media record. MLive.com reporter Tim Skubick published an article Sunday recounting a sequence of press evasions during a period of only minutes last May on Mackinac Island in Michigan, where Land eventually ran from the press after being approached by a group of local reporters, telling them, “I can’t do this.”
Last Friday, Land appeared to struggle through an interview conducted by Michigan Public Radio.
When asked about the prospect of cuts to postal service funding in Michigan, Land responded by saying, “I’m a big fan of mail...I’ve always been a fan of the post office.”
When MPR questioned her on stem cell research, Land told them, “I support research…We have a lot of diseases out there.” On Hamas’ bombing of Israel: “They need to stop that.” And when continually pressed by host Rick Pluta on the specifics of her alternative to the Affordable Care Act, she replied by telling him, “Every patient is different on the needs that they need."
Land’s aides have defended her against a whole range of accusations, saying she’s given appropriate notice of her public appearances, and that criticisms by the press haven’t come from local reporters familiar with Land’s record on the trail.
After the interview with Pluta, the Land campaign sent out a fundraising email that bragged, “Terri's performance was so strong that the Peters campaign canceled debate negotiations immediately after she went off the air. That's right - they heard Terri deliver her message on putting Michigan First for an hour on air, and turned tail and ran from the debate.”
“It was a big public performance, something we could link to,” Kildea told ABC News. “We are definitely very proud of her performance and stand by that.”
Ballenger was less impressed.
“We’re living in this surreal world where the Land campaign with a straight face could actually put out a press release saying, ‘She delivered such a strong performance, that now Peters is cowered into horror,’” he noted. “It’s laughable, but this is what’s going on.”
In an email to ABC News, Kildea sent a list of Land’s recent press activity meant to prove her accessibility, which included a call to a local radio show in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and several appearances on conservative radio channels and in conservative digital publications.
“Terri Lynn Land is traveling around Michigan, talking to voters and the press about her plan to put Michigan First by fixing our roads, securing the border, and creating good-paying jobs,” said Land campaign spokeswoman Heather Swift in a statement to ABC News. “Meanwhile, Gary Peters has been focused on appealing to Washington and Tom Steyer, the radical California billionaire, with policies like opposing the Keystone Pipeline and supporting cap-and-trade.”
Saul Anuzis, chairman of the Michigan Republican Party from 2005-2009 and a member of conservative politics in Michigan, was cautious in defending Land’s campaign.
“Strategically every campaign is going to do what’s best for their effort,” he told ABC News. “I think the campaign is very much aware that they’re going to win or lose this thing based on it being a wave election. What you want to do is minimize any chance of errors, [which means] not putting herself in situations to allow Democrats to define her or take advantage of any unintended circumstances."
Land could eke out a victory simply on accident, according to Anuzis, who thinks Michigan voters satisfied with Republican Governor Rick Snyder could vote on a straight Republican ticket, checking off Land’s box as a mere formality, not because they consciously support her. Still, Anuzis thinks Land’s candidacy is a monumental missed opportunity, describing the frustration among Michigan Republicans over not fielding a more seasoned politician.
“I think there’s no secret that people would have preferred [Representative] Dave Camp or [Representative] Mike Rogers,” he added. “Most people would argue that if one of them were there, the race would be over. ... This is a seat we could have had.”