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Grosse Pointe businessman Sandy Pensler’s U.S. Senate campaign got off to a dramatic start Monday as critics highlighted a 1992 newspaper article describing him as a “pro-choice” Republican and argued his past support for abortion rights will hurt him in next year’s GOP primary.

Pensler, founder of the Pensler Capital Corp. private investment firm, now “considers himself pro-life” and supports overturning the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that guaranteed a woman’s right to choose an abortion, campaign consultant Tom Shields said Monday.

“It was 25 years ago,” he said of Pensler’s stance in 1992, when he ran for the U.S. House in Michigan’s 8th Congressional District. “His position evolved as he had a family and kids.”

The Michigan Faith and Freedom Coalition, headed by GOP strategist Randall Thompson, blasted Pensler Monday morning on Facebook, suggesting “there is NO WAY conservatives in Michigan” will support him in a Republican primary.

Thompson quickly released a statement to the media and, by early afternoon, unveiled a new website dubbing the Republican candidate “Pro-choice Pensler.”

“We need elected officials who are absolutely pro-life,” he said. “We can’t afford any pretending on this issue.”

Past support for abortion rights did not seem to hurt Republican President Donald Trump, who called himself “very pro-choice” in a 1999 interview on NBC News but ran as an abortion opponent last year, also saying he had “evolved.”

Trump won Michigan’s GOP primary and became the first Republican to win the state’s general election since 1988.

Ads target no votes on tax overhaul

The National Republican Congressional Committee on Friday rolled out digital ads targeting 25 Democrats who voted against the tax bill that passed the House last week, including Reps. Sander Levin of Royal Oak and Dan Kildee of Flint Township.

No Democrats voted in favor of the legislation, but Republicans hope to make it a campaign issue.

So does the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which launched digital ads attacking House Republicans for supporting the tax package. The DCCC’s ads are focused on Michigan’s 11th District, where the seat of retiring GOP Rep. Dave Trott of Birmingham is up for grabs.

The NRCC’s 15-second ads are running on Facebook through this week as part of a five-figure ad buy.

“Sander Levin voted to block middle-class tax relief, putting the wishes of Nancy Pelosi ahead of your family budget,” the narrator says in one of the ads. “The status quo has to go, and partisan Democrats are standing in the way. Tell Sander Levin: Middle-class families deserve a break.”

Levin said the bill was “so bad” that even 13 Republicans voted against it, asking whether the NRCC would run ads in their districts, too.

“Of all of the myths and misrepresentation related to the Republican tax bill, the greatest is that it is focused on helping middle-class families,” Levin said in a statement.

“The GOP legislation would actually raise taxes on millions of middle-income Americans, not to mention require cuts to Medicare and blowup the federal debt – all to provide billions of dollars in tax breaks to the very wealthy and to some corporations.”

Levin, who has served in Congress since 1983, has not said whether he’s running for re-election.

“Let me be clear: I support real bipartisan tax reform that gives middle-class families relief,” Kildee said in a statement. “But there is no way in good conscience I could have voted for this bad bill that raises taxes on hardworking families in Michigan in order to give massive tax cuts to billionaires and multinational corporations.”

The NRCC previously named Kildee and Levin among 36 Democrats it’s targeting in the 2018 cycle, though both districts are largely considered safe Democratic seats.

Slotkin recruited by Dems

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has named Elissa Slotkin of Holly among 11 promising recruits highlighted in the first round of the DCCC’s Red to Blue program.

Slotkin, a former assistant secretary of defense, is hoping to challenge Republican Rep. Mike Bishop of Rochester in the 8th District.

Slotkin was chosen in part because her campaign surpassed goals for grassroots engagement, local support, campaign organization and fundraising.

“Elissa Slotkin has devoted her life to national service and is running to bring an independent voice and Midwest values to Congress,” DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján said in a statement.

“She’s building a robust campaign, already outperforming her opponent in many regards, and is earning the trust of Michiganders across the 8th District with her fresh approach.”

The Red to Blue program provides candidates with organizational and fundraising support from the DCCC.

The Democratic primary includes Chris Smith, a professor at Michigan State University’s School of Criminal Justice.

Whitmer has ‘work to do’ in Detroit

Does Gretchen Whitmer have a Detroit problem?

With polls suggesting sluggish support for her in the Democratic stronghold, the early frontrunner for the party’s gubernatorial nomination acknowledges she has room for improvement in Detroit.

“I’m just not known,” Whitmer, a former state Senate minority leader and East Lansing resident, said this week at an unrelated event in Lansing. “I’ve spent my life in public service. I was the top Democrat at the Capitol, but I am a mid-Michigander. I grew up on the west side of the state, so I’ve got work to do on that front.”

Whitmer touts endorsements from Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, Prosecutor Kym Worthy and Executive Warren Evans, who is traveling the state with her on an urban agenda listening tour.

But Whitmer has not yet won over Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who won re-election this month and has repeatedly said he does not intend to run for governor himself. Whitmer said she has asked Duggan for his endorsement, something he has not yet handed out.

“Of course I have,” she said. “I think the world of Mayor Duggan and we are continuing the conversation… . Even though I’ve been at this 11 months, we’re still almost a year out. There’s a lot more time to go.”

Contributors: Jonathan Oosting, Melissa Nann Burke

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