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Rep. Upton considers challenge to Sen. Stabenow

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The senior Republican in Michigan’s congressional delegation, Rep. Fred Upton, is considering a run for the U.S. Senate when Democrat Debbie Stabenow’s seat is up next year for re-election.

Upton, 63, first took office in 1987 and won re-election in the 6th District last fall with 59 percent of the vote. He just ended a six-year stint as chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“Fred appreciates the encouragement he’s gotten from folks who believe his know-how and vision would serve our state well,” Upton spokesman Tom Wilbur said.

“But right now, his focus is on representing everyone here in southwest Michigan and advancing an agenda that ensures affordable energy for Michigan families as chairman of the energy subcommittee.”

To pursue the Senate, Upton would have to drop his bid for another term in the U.S. House, for which he has declared his candidacy with the Federal Election Commission last month. Under state law, he can’t run for multiple offices.

No other Republicans have publicly declared an intention to challenge Stabenow, 66, who has served in the upper chamber since 2001 and is seeking a fourth term.

Attorney General Bill Schuette, who is expected to run for governor in 2018, told The Detroit News he is not interested in Stabenow’s seat.

Stabenow is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee and sits on the Senate Energy and Budget panels. This year, she has taken on another leadership role as chair of the Senate Democrats’ policy and messaging arm, the Democratic Policy and Communications Center — a post previously held by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

This week, she joined Democrats boycotting committee votes on the confirmations of President Donald Trump’s nominees for secretary of Treasury and of Health and Human Services. Finance committee Republicans suspended the rules Wednesday and advanced Steve Mnuchin and Rep. Tom Price, R-Georgia, to the full Senate for consideration.

Stabenow on Wednesday reported a healthy $3.2 million cash on hand — up from $2.4 million reported in October.

She has proved a formidable statewide candidate, defeating incumbent Republican Spencer Abraham to take the seat in 2000 and become the first woman to represent Michigan in the U.S. Senate.

She then defended the seat against the well-funded campaigns of Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard and former Rep. Pete Hoekstra, winning 57 percent and 59 percent of the vote, respectively.

But since Trump became the first Republican presidential candidate to win Michigan since 1988, there’s concern among Democrats that voters who rejected former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Rust Belt swing states could narrow Democrats’ margins in 2018.

Notably, Clinton last fall won only seven of Michigan’s 83 counties. Stabenow clinched 61 counties in 2012.

Stabenow is part of an small group of Michigan women to be elected to statewide office in Michigan and to serve both in state government and Congress. The others are former Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, and the late U.S. Rep. Martha Wright Griffiths, a former lieutenant governor.

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