U.S. Rep. Fred Upton opts against Senate run

Rep. Fred Upton of southwest Michigan said Friday he will not run for U.S. Senate and will instead seek re-election to the House, ending months of speculation that the St. Joseph Republican would try to challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow next year.

“I will not be a candidate for the U.S. Senate,” Upton said in a statement. “There was a path, but today we are choosing not to follow it.”

The GOP primary field for the U.S. Senate seat now includes retired Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bob Young of Laingsburg, and businessman John James of Farmington Hills. Grosse Pointe businessman Sandy Pensler is also considering a run.

Michigan rocker Kid Rock, aka Robert Ritchie, had teased a Senate run but revealed this month that it was a stunt to promote his new album.

Stabenow won re-election by wide margins in 2006 and 2012, but the Lansing resident has been among early Republican targets this cycle as one of 10 Senate Democrats up for re-election next year in a state that GOP President Donald Trump won in 2016.

Stabenow has built a war chest of roughly $7 million in her re-election bid after raising more than $1.7 million in the third quarter of 2017, giving her a formidable cushion heading into 2018.

“She remains a favorite with the Upton news. That’s one significant, quality challenger that is now out of her way for her re-election,” said David Dulio, who chairs the political science department at Oakland University.

“I’d want to see the next fund-raising totals from the announced candidates before we did any prognostication about who might win the Republican primary.”

Others are dubious the Michigan GOP has a good shot at knocking off Stabenow.

“I think Stabenow is kind of a reach for Republicans anyway,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball newsletter, which rates the race as “likely” Democratic.

“Upton maybe could have been a Senate contender, but the timing might not be right. It would have been easy to imagine him flat out retiring.”

Upton is Michigan’s senior Republican in Congress, having served in the House since 1987. He termed out of his chairmanship of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee last year but remains on the panel, chairing the subcommittee on energy.

Upton openly discussed the possibility of a Senate campaign for several months and appeared to be laying the groundwork for a potential run in September at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference, where he met with “pooh-bahs from all over the state.”

Instead, Upton said Friday he would continue to focus on constituent services and active efforts in Congress, including a House-approved tax reform plan he voted for Thursday.

“We need focus and fortitude in Washington now more than ever,” he said. “We are full speed ahead for re-election in 2018.”

Upton’s decision comes amid a wave of retirement announcements from Republicans in Congress in recent weeks – nearly 30 in total, including Reps. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Lamar Smith of Texas, chairman of the science committee.

Sophomore Rep. Dave Trott, R-Birmingham, is among those leaving a competitive district up for grabs.

The impending departures might have put pressure on Upton to stay put, as an opening in his district could have made it vulnerable in the case of a Democratic wave in 2018, Kondik said.

“I’m actually a little surprised. It felt like an up or out moment for him,” said Kondik of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

“It’s a good development for House Republicans because they have enough headaches anyway. Avoiding any additional open seats is a victory for them.”

Upton’s campaign had about $1.1 million in the bank as of Sept. 30.

At least six Democrats have lined up hoping to challenge his hold on the 6th District, which covers Berrien, Cass, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph and Van Buren counties and much of Allegan County.

The Democratic primary field so far includes West Michigan University professor Paul Clements, who has lost to Upton the last two cycles; physician Matt Longjohn of Portage; former longtime Kellogg lobbyist George Franklin of Glenn; WMU history professor David Benac of Kalamazoo; chemist Eponine Garrod of Portage; and biologist Rich Eichholz of St. Joseph.

“Congressman Upton will have to deal with his increasingly out of touch record in 2018 as he seeks his 16th term,” Longjohn said in a statement Friday.

“His reliable support for Speaker Ryan’s failed agenda this year has been painfully apparent.”