Bishop's seat in Congress deemed 'toss up'

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
Democrat Elissa Slotkin is running against sophomore Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, in the 8th District.

A closely watched political forecaster, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, on Friday shifted the battle for Republican Rep. Mike Bishop's seat in the Detroit suburbs from "leans Republican" to toss up.

Bishop, who is seeking a third term, is trying to fend off his strongest challenger in years in Democrat Elissa Slotkin — a former top defense official in the Obama administration.

The race has been increasingly viewed as a bellwether in the fight for control of the U.S. House.

Michigan's 8th Congressional District voted for President Trump with 51 percent of the vote in 2016 — the same year Bishop won re-election by 17 percentage points.

"But in 2018, Democrats will finally have the resources to litigate Bishop's record, and multiple private surveys depict Bishop in weak shape," wrote Cook's House editor, David Wasserman.

Wasserman highlighted Slotkin's fundraising success ($2 million so far) and upbringing in Holly in a "well-known meatpacking family" that started the company Hygrade Foods, which created the Ballpark Franks first sold at Tiger Stadium.

She served three tours in Iraq as an Arabic-speaking Central Intelligence Agency analyst before serving in various posts in the U.S. intelligence and defense communities in Washington during the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

Rep. Mike Bishop

The district includes Ingham, Livingston counties and northern Oakland County. 

"Cook's rating change echoes what we already know here in the district — we have significant momentum; people are tired of the vitriol in Congress and are ready for a change," Slotkin said in a statement.

"I'm proud that we're running a grassroots-powered campaign. We've raised more than Rep. Bishop without taking corporate PAC contributions, and we've got over 1,000 volunteers signed up — many of whom have never been involved in politics before."

But the Bishop campaign pointed to The Detroit News editorial board's endorsement of East Lansing's Chris Smith over Slotkin in the Democratic primary and said Bishop is poised for victory in the fall.

"Mike Bishop is in a strong position to win the district that he serves and where he has been a lifelong resident," Bishop campaign consultant Stu Sandler said.

"Being that Elissa Slotkin just moved to the district, doesn't own a home and hasn't voted there yet, it's not a surprise that Elissa Slotkin finds herself in a tough primary against a Democrat opponent which The Detroit News finds to have 'more depth.'"

The campaign has tried to frame Slotkin, 42, as a carpetbagger who is raising significant money from outside the district.

"She’s got a network out there, and they’re funding her at record levels. That to me does not translate directly to a win," Bishop said last month.

"My constituent base wants to know more about what the candidate thinks on issues. I think this is going to be a campaign of ideas and whether or not she can get up to speed on this district and the people who live there — because she’s never been there before."

Slotkin moved back to Michigan in the spring of 2017 after her national security posts and hadn't been registered to vote in Michigan since she left for college.

"But her cash advantage means she'll likely get to define the terms of debate just as much as Bishop," Wasserman wrote. "In this environment, it's a Toss Up."

Gongwer News Service editor Zach Gorchow tweeted Friday that Slotkin still faces a "tough task" in defeating Bishop because he has won his home turf of northern Oakland County by 2-1 margins in 2014 and 2016.

The Democratic challenger would need to come close to tying Bishop in that region to score an upset, Gorchow said.