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Two political newcomers are trying to upset the leading Democrat and Republican  candidates for Michigan's 8th Congressional District in Tuesday's primary.

Democrat Elissa Slotkin — a former defense official in the Obama administration — wants to challenge two-term Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop of Rochester in the fall in a district that includes northern Oakland County and parts of Ingham and Livingston counties.

But first Slotkin faces Democrat Chris Smith of East Lansing, who has been on the faculty at Michigan State University since 1994 and teaches classes on public policy and law in MSU's School of Criminal Justice.

On the Republican side, Bishop is being challenged by Lokesh Kumar, a businessman from Okemos who's owned a manufacturing company in Lansing since 2000.

The Republican-leaning district voted for President Donald Trump with 51 percent of the vote in 2016, while Bishop won re-election by 17 percentage points.

Bishop is in a strong position since he is the incumbent, while the Democratic primary also seems to be "a one-sided affair" for Slotkin, who has raised more money overall than any other candidate, said David Dulio, professor and chairman of the political science department at Oakland University.

Bishop, 51, said he is proud of what he has done in Congress and has a unique experience both in the private and public sector.

Bishop is a former Michigan Senate majority leader and House lawmaker who also was the chief legal officer and executive for the International Bancard Corp. He also was a private attorney and a Cooley Law School professor.

"I would emphasize my role on House Committee on Ways and Means committee where I work on issues in our economy. That is important to me. The recent tax reform bills are things we can do to make a difference," Bishop said.

Bishop says he is a lead player in combating the opiod epidemic and has helped to save $300 million in federal funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

"I'm a life long resident. ... I am connected to the voters. I don't spend time immersed in the capital city. I don't live here (Washington, D.C.). I come back home. My job is to represent people here," he said.

Kumar, 54, says he stands for being truthful, lower taxes and traditional family values but more importantly he wants to deliver results.

If elected, Kumar wants to fix Michigan roads, work to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement and invest federal aid into manufacturing jobs in the district.

"The whole system has become very dysfunctional. I don’t want to live in such a dysfunctional society anymore. Instead of talking about it, I want to do something about," Kumar said,

"Bishop has been there two terms, and he has not done anything for us," Kumar said.

In the Democratic primary, Smith said he is the only candidate in the race who advocates the Medicare-for-all health care plan, which is a form of single-payer universal health care. He decided to run after Trump's surprise win in 2016.

"I was in shock and said I needed to do more. I evaluated myself and my focus on the policy and law and said no incumbents should go unchallenged," Smith said.

The Medicare-for-all plan by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders could increase government spending by $32 trillion over 10 years, according to a new report from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, which said nationwide health care spending could decline because of lower prescription drug costs and reduced payments to providers. 

Smith, 60, said he wants to ban all pipelines under the Great Lakes, end sales of military rifles to the public and offer free community college. 

"Different states are providing free community college. If individual states can do it, we can do it nationally. Let's make it a national goal," he said.

The decision for Smith to run came after the November 2016 election.

By contrast, Slotkin served three tours in Iraq as an Arabic-speaking Central Intelligence Agency analyst before serving in various posts in the U.S. intelligence and defense communities during the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

The 42-year-old moved back to Michigan in spring 2017 after her national security posts and lives in Holly.

"We need a new generation of leadership that focuses on actual practical solutions and getting things done," Slotkin said.

Slotkin says she is the best candidate in the race because she understands what it means to be a public servant who is mission orientated. 

"I would bring that same focus to fighting for people in Michigan. I know how to do it. I have experience bringing disparate parties to the table...and I understand how to keep the focus on results," she said.

jchambers@detroitnews.com

 

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