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While it’s not yet clear whether Republican recording artist Kid Rock is running for U.S. Senate in Michigan or just trying to sell records, Democrats are trying to raise money from his recent tease.

Debbie Stabenow needs your help,” U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts wrote last week in a fundraising email to benefit her Democratic colleague in Michigan.

The email included a mock image of a “Kid Rock for US Senate” lawn sign he posted on Twitter as he confirmed that, yes, his kidrockforsenate.com website is real.

“Maybe this is all a joke – but we all thought Donald Trump was joking when he rode down the escalator at Trump Tower and announced his campaign too,” said Warren’s fundraising pitch. “... Debbie Stabenow isn’t taking anything for granted.”

Democrats are not alone in working to capitalize on the interest in – or threat of – a potential Rock run for Senate.

Republican candidate Lena Epstein, a Metro Detroit businesswoman who co-chaired President Donald Trump’s 2016 Michigan campaign, released a web video Friday welcoming Rock “2 the Party.”

“I’m running for the United States Senate to take the fight directly to Debbie Stabenow,” she said over a solo-guitar rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner.” “I might have to kick your butt in a primary first.”

Epstein invited Rock to travel the state with her to talk about issues — and disclosed that she’s pregnant.

“While we’re on the trail together, let’s shoot some guns,” she said. “You’ll have a beer or two. I’m pregnant, so I’ll have sweet tea.”

Doctor to challenge Upton

Another Democrat is joining the race for Congress in southwest Michigan. Public health expert and physician Matt Longjohn launched his campaign Tuesday in hopes of unseating longtime GOP U.S. Rep. Fred Upton.

For seven years, Longjohn served as the national health officer of the YMCA, where he ran community health programs. He left the position June 30, aiming to instead “improve the health and quality of life of people in the 6th District of Michigan,” he said.

Longjohn, 46, of Portage said a factor in his decision to run was when Upton negotiated a deal that helped House Republicans pass their plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act in early May.

“As a physician and health leader, I felt it was my duty to get into this race,” Longjohn told The Detroit News.

“The Republican health care actions are really going to cause a lot of problems for everyone in this district, sooner or later. Older adults are going to be paying an age tax. People will be paying more for less care. These (state) waivers are just going to allow insurers to essentially sell junk.”

Upton, who had written previous legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, has defended his role in the health care bill, saying his negotiations resulted in $8 billion in additional money for those who face costly premiums in states that seek a waiver from health care regulations under the bill.

After the health care vote, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added Upton to the list of Republicans it hopes to knock out in the midterm elections.

The other Democratic candidates include Paul Clements, David Benac, Rich Eichholz and Eponine Garrod. In the last two cycles, Upton faced Clements, beating him by 22 percentage points last fall and 15.5 points in 2014.

“Fred was overwhelmingly re-elected with nearly 60 percent of the vote just eight months ago,” Upton campaign director Liz Garey said.

“For now he’s laser focused on common-sense, bipartisan policies to create Michigan jobs and serving the best interests of folks here at home. While it’s no surprise another liberal candidate has announced, Fred’s top priority is to continue working tirelessly to make Michigan an even better place to live and work.”

From loser to recruiter

After losing by six votes to state Rep. Brian Banks in 2014 — a former convict and Harper Woods Democrat — Rebecca Thompson will become Emily’s List new national recruitment director.

Thompson will join the liberal group as its “Run To Win” director and oversee national recruitment and training programs to help pro-choice Democratic women win elected positions, the organization said in a statement this week.

In 2014, Thompson lost the Democratic primary to Banks for the 1st House District seat despite his legal troubles.

Thompson attacked Banks that year for causing a distraction from more important issues due to his prior felony convictions over credit card fraud, bad checks and eviction for not paying rent before he was first elected in 2012. Banks still received the endorsement of Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.

“From the moment he was elected, our district has made national news and we’ve not been talking about the issues affecting people,” Thompson told The News at the time. “Instead we’ve been talking about Mr. Banks' felonies, lawsuits and evictions.”

Emily’s List welcomed Thompson to the fold.

“She knows what it’s like to run a hard-fought campaign, and she’s seen firsthand the challenges that women candidates have to overcome every day,” said the group’s president, Stephanie Schriock.

During Democrat Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 presidential campaign, Thompson also bemoaned the lack of enthusiasm for Clinton in Detroit despite the fact that many were “vehemently opposed to Trump.”

Lobbying and donating

In addition to the standard routine of drinks, meals and rhetoric to influence state lawmakers, 1,300 lobbyists have made at least one campaign contribution in the last six years, according to a new report from the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

The watchdog group reports that dozens of Michigan lobbyists have given more than $10,000 to political campaigns during the past six years.

Political action committees for Karoub Associates and Governmental Consultant Services Inc., a large Lansing-based multi-client lobbying firm, generated the second highest amount of spending during a single quarter in the last four years.

Muchmore Harrington Smalley & Associates reported the highest spending in any quarter since 2014, according to the Campaign Finance Network. Its PAC donated to 81 lawmakers – more than 54 percent of the Legislature.

Contributors: Melissa Nann Burke, Jonathan Oosting and Michael Gerstein

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