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Super PAC aligned with GOP leaders axes funding for Bishop

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Brighton

Washington — A super political action committee backed by House Republican leaders says it's pulling funding for two-term Rep. Mike Bishop, who is facing a tough opponent in November. 

The Congressional Leadership Fund, which has ties to House Speaker Paul Ryan, had reserved $2.1 million of television air time in Michigan to help defend Bishop, a Rochester Republican. Those reservations are now canceled.

“No one works harder for Michigan families than Mike Bishop," CLF spokeswoman Courtney Alexander said. 

"CLF will continue to run strong field operations in these districts and will continue to conduct polling and evaluate races across the country, as we do everything we can to protect the Republican majority."

The group has a field office in the 8th District.

Bishop challenger Elissa Slotkin, a former top Defense official from Holly, has raised more money than Bishop every reporting period in the 2018 cycle, and analysts rate the contest a tossup. 

Slotkin had nearly $2.25 million in cash reserves compared with Bishop's $1.68 million war chest, as of mid-July. 

CLF Executive Director Corey Bliss told The Detroit News this summer that Michigan's 8th district is among the races he's watching as an indicator which party might clinch the majority in November

Bliss also described incumbents getting outraised by Democratic challengers as "inexcusable." 

“If you’re an incumbent member of Congress and getting outraised, you should either work harder or spend time working on your resume," he said in June. 

Bishop's campaign downplayed the significance of the CLF pulling out Friday, noting the millions of dollars in reservations for Bishop still active on behalf of outside groups.

"There is more than $5 million in other groups including NRCC, America First and other conservative groups," Bishop consultant Stu Sandler said, referring to the National Republican Congressional Committee and a group affiliated with President Donald Trump. 

"When voters learn about Elissa Slotkin's support of higher taxes, the Iran deal and other liberal policies, Mike Bishop's support grows tremendously. Our internal (polling) shows us leading, and we feel confident Mike Bishop will be re-elected." 

Michigan GOP strategist John Yob tweeted: "This is a bad decision that needs re-evaluated. Mike Bishop is positioned to win, or at least was until this ridiculous news this afternoon."

Meanwhile, Slotkin's campaign embraced the news. 

"CLF is taking note of the same things we’re seeing: Elissa is building support across the political spectrum, due to her bipartisan service record and commitment to working on the issues that people care about most, like bringing down the cost of health care and prescription drugs," Slotkin spokeswoman Laura Epstein said.

"Rep. Bishop, in contrast, has a long record of putting his party first and doing the bidding of his super donors at the expense of his voters."

The shift of support away from Michigan's 8th District is part of a shuffling of money by the CLF. The group also canceled reservations for Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colorado.

The super PAC said Friday it was investing $5 million in reservations in the Los Angles broadcast market, as well as $1 million in Wisconsin's 1st District, as well as over $200,000 each in two districts in Iowa and New Mexico. 

The group also announced last week another round of reservations that included $400,000 in southwest Michigan to help defend longtime Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph. 

When a party cancels media reservations for a candidate, "it’s usually a sign of weakness," said Kyle Kondik, who studies House races at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

"Maybe they are making Michigan 8 as a message to others that if you got outraised by your opponent, we can’t save you," Kondik said. 

"I also believe that sometimes these committees, while can’t coordinate, they might trade off reservations. Maybe they feel like the NRCC can cover them in Michigan 8. But it’s just not good news for Bishop, no matter which way you slice it."    

Michigan's 8th, which includes northern Oakland County, Livingston County and part of Ingham County, voted for President Donald Trump with 51 percent of the vote in 2016 — the same year Bishop won re-election by 17 percentage points.

But Trump's unpopularity rating of 57 percent with likely Michigan voters is causing problems for Republican candidates, according to a Sept. 5-7 Detroit News-WDIV poll.