GOP campaign chief 'confident' Bishop will win tight re-election race

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, speaks at the Christian Science Monitor Breakfast on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018.

Washington — The head of the Republicans' national campaign arm for the House is "confident" that embattled U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop will win re-election, despite being outraised by Democratic challenger Elissa Slotkin in a race now rated a toss-up. 

Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Bishop has raised record amount of money for himself — nearly $2.12 million through July 18 — to Slotkin's $3 million.

"To use the horseshoes and hand grenades phrase, he's close enough," Stivers said at a breakfast with political reporters sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. 

"You can't be doubled up on spending but as long as you're in the same ZIP code, and Mike Bishop is going to be close enough to get his message out. He's already got a great image among the voters." 

Stivers said people make the mistake of thinking that Bishop is a "teddy bear" or "warm and fuzzy guy." 

"Melissa Gilbert thought that," Stivers said, referring to the Democrat who briefly ran against Bishop in 2016. 

"She found out that Mike Bishop can run a tough race, and she had to drop out, it was so bad," Stivers added.

"Mike is a good campaigner. He works hard. He is going to win that race. And that's not to take anything away from — Slotkin's a good candidate. She's raising a lot of money. But I feel confident in his abilities." 

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is also bullish on Slotkin's prospects, calling Michigan's 8th one of the most competitive races in the country thanks to Slotkin's "service-first mentality" and bipartisan appeal.

"Her call to put people ahead of party is resonating and putting career politician Rep. Mike Bishop on notice," DCCC spokeswoman Rachel Irwin said.

"Rep. Bishop has never faced an environment or opponent this tough, and he will have to defend his record of putting big PHARMA and insurance companies ahead of his constituents, while voting to raise their healthcare costs."

Slotkin, 42, of Holly was a former top defense official in the Obama administration who served two tours in Iraq as a CIA analyst. She has criticized Bishop as a career politician beholden to special-interest donors. 

Bishop, 51, of Rochester, is a former state Senate Majority Leader seeking a third term. His campaign has depicted Slotkin as a Washington insider with weak ties to the district. 

"It’s getting to game time here. Nine weeks left, and we feel like we’ve got good momentum," Slotkin said in an interview.

"We’ve got first commercial up and our volunteer army ready to go, and we feel pretty good."

Stivers said his advice for vulnerable candidates is to "have enough money to define yourself especially and help us start to define your opponent, and we'll come in and help define your opponent and don't take anything for granted."

Stivers said Bishop's seat in the 8th District, as well as the 11th District, where Rep. Dave Trott of Birmingham is retiring, "are the two that are kind of on the line" in Michigan. 

With nine weeks to the election, outside groups like the NRCC are expected to pour millions into Michigan's most vulnerable districts.

The NRCC itself says it has reserved just over $4 million in cable and broadcast air time in the Detroit market. The Congressional Leadership Fund, which is tied to House leadership, had reserved over $2 million to help Bishop as of April. 

The DCCC says it has reserved $1.5 million worth of air time in Detroit with more likely to come. 

House Majority PAC, which has ties to Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, has reserved over $1.1 million in the Detroit market and $162,000 in the Lansing market. That group went up on air last week in the 8th District with an $170,000 media buy attacking Bishop's record. 

In the 11th, Republican Lena Epstein and Democrat Haley Stevens are on the ballot in November. 

"Lena is going to be a strong candidate. I feel confident that we're in good position there to hold that seat," Stivers said. 

But Democrats consider the 11th a prime pickup opportunity in their quest to regain control of the House.  

"Haley Stevens has dedicated her career to creating good-paying jobs and advancing digital manufacturing and skills-training," said Irwin of the DCCC. 

"Epstein’s blind loyalty to Trump and Betsy DeVos will be a huge liability in November among voters who are ready for a better direction in Washington."

Stivers said Democrats have been unable to "make a race" in the out-state districts held by incumbent GOP Reps. Fred Upton of St. Joseph and Jack Bergman of Watersmeet. 

"But we're paying attention to both of those," Stivers said. "If it turns out that something happens, and they need help I'll be there for them. But right now they look really strong."