GOP chairwoman: Young to challenge Stabenow

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Newly retired Michigan Supreme Court Justice Robert Young Jr. is getting ready to jump into the 2018 U.S. Senate race, a move that political analysts said brings strengths as well as risks.

Young confirmed that he intends to campaign for the GOP nomination while speaking at a Monday breakfast fundraiser at the Bucks Run Golf Club in Mount Pleasant, said Judy Rapanos, chairwoman of the Fourth District Republicans. An official declaration is expected in the coming days, she said.

“When you get news like that, it riles up the crowd,” Rapanos said.

The Detroit native was the highest-ranking elected African-American official in Michigan from 2000 until his retirement from the high court in April. Young did not return calls for comment Tuesday.

The 66-year-old lawyer would join Republican Lena Epstein, the 35-year-old businesswoman who co-chaired President Donald Trump’s Michigan campaign, in vying to challenge Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing.

“When he ran for Supreme Court, he traveled the state and did the type of grassroots campaigning that will be beneficial for a Senate run,” said John Truscott, a Republican consultant based in Lansing. “He’s wicked smart and has an easy ballot name. Republicans like him.”

Young was chosen by his colleagues to serve as chief justice for an unprecedented three two-year terms, concluding in January. He spent 18 years on the high court and has been lauded for helping foster a new era of collegiality between Democrat-nominated and GOP-nominated justices.

President Donald Trump, when he was still a candidate, last year included Young on a list of 21 officials he would consider appointing to the U.S. Supreme Court. But the Michigan justice known for wearing bow ties scoffed at the notion that he would be nominated.

Young’s lauded court record could be a weakness, Truscott said, because “people don’t understand legal decisions, and some of the Supreme Court rulings will be taken out of context by his opponent, whether in the primary or in the general election. It will take effort to explain and when you’re explaining, you’re not moving forward.”

Lansing-based Democratic consultant Joe DiSano said Young would be an underdog in the GOP primary.

“Epstein has captured the hearts and minds of the Trump-loving Republican base,” DiSano said. “I think the time for Robert Young’s understated manner has passed in the GOP. It’s all about rage now. It’s all about the food fight.”

Stabenow’s long record as a grassroots campaigner makes her the prohibitive favorite to get re-elected to a fourth term if Epstein or Young are the Republican nominee, he said. After narrowly beating incumbent Republican Sen. Spence Abraham by less than 3 percentage points in 2000, she easily defeated Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard by 15 points in 2006 and former U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Holland by more than 20 points in 2012.

“Debbie Stabenow will clean the floor with either of them,” DiSano said.

A Senate run would mean Young is giving up on his brief return to private appellate practice at the Dickinson Wright firm, where he is affiliated with the Lansing office. But he might have given a hint about his political ambitions when he said in his retirement statement in April that “sometimes you just know when it’s time to move on to another challenge.”

DiSano said a stronger opponent for Stabenow would be U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, the 64-year-old southwest Michigan Republican who has said he is considering a Senate run but hasn’t spent any time preparing for a campaign.

“Upton would be a stronger challenger to Stabenow than Epstein or Young but Stabenow’s amazing relationships in rural areas is her trump card to beat any Republican,” he said.

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