Eclectic mix of Republicans fight for chance to unseat Slotkin

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

An eclectic mix of Republican candidates are fighting to win the August primary and get the chance to challenge Democratic U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin in a bid to regain control of the historically GOP-leaning, mid-Michigan district.

Among her prospective challengers are a real estate agent who got in hot water over comments on racism and a neo-fascist group as well as a Brighton resident who has done stints as a TV anchor, prosecutor and adviser in the Trump administration. They include a business owner and Marine veteran who questions the politicization of the pandemic as well as a Fowlerville lawyer who considers herself a "mediator" in a time of political division.

The Aug. 4 primary doesn't appear to have a clear front runner, and the winner may prevail by a small margin, experts said. Slotkin's vote to impeach President Donald Trump was considered a potential liability in a district Trump won in 2016 and was defended by two different GOP lawmakers for 18 years.

Rep. Elissa Slotkin

But Slotkin, a Holly Democrat who is unopposed in her party's primary, has more than $4.8 million in cash on hand for the fall election — an astronomical amount for a Michigan U.S. House contest. She regularly appears on national cable television shows to burnish her credentials as a former Defense Department and intelligence analyst.

As a result, the eventual Republican nominee stands a tougher chance of winning in November than originally hoped for because of poor recruiting by the Michigan Republican Party, experts said. Slotkin defeated GOP U.S. Rep Mike Bishop of Rochester by less than four percentage points in 2018. 

“Any Republican candidate was going to face an uphill battle in the 8th because they’re facing an incumbent with a ton of earned media, a disciplined, moderate message and a historic fundraising record,” said John Sellek, who worked for Republican former Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and owns the Lansing public relations firm Harbor Strategic.

“To a certain extent it doesn’t matter what happens in August. The GOP was unable to recruit a quality challenger in this race,” said Adrian Hemond, partner and CEO at Grassroots Midwest and a Democratic consultant.

Slotkin’s potential challengers include Marine veteran and business owner Alan Hoover of Ortonville, real estate agent Mike Detmer of Howell, lawyer Kristina Lyke of Fowlerville and former prosecutor and TV anchor Paul Junge of Brighton. State Board of Education member Nikki Snyder failed to collect enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Republican candidates described concerns over the loss of constitutional rights and foreign pharmaceutical costs as some of the issues most important to them. Each candidate expressed support for President Donald Trump, whom they describe as a leader beleaguered by Democratic attacks and an unfair press. But all four GOP hopefuls also said they would speak their minds if they disagreed with Trump.

The 8th Congressional District is considered a Republican-leaning district with a part of Democratic Ingham County, Republican Livingston County and a part of northern Oakland County that has become more favorable to Democrats despite a history of GOP support. 

In recent months, Slotkin has focused on bipartisan issues — such as COVID-19 response, prescription drug costs and water quality — while keeping in mind that the 8th Congressional District is a "purple" district at play in the middle of a pandemic, said Gordon Trowbridge, a spokesman for Slotkin's campaign. 

"This is a swing district," Trowbridge said. "It's one where those personal connections are important, and she feels very strongly that continuing to make those personal connections is the way she wants to approach this race and the way that we believe we will ultimately be successful.”

Where money's going

Junge has a fundraising edge over the other GOP candidates, raising $261,877 last quarter and holding about $520,000 on hand. Most of his money came from a $505,000 loan he made to his campaign.

At the same point ahead of the 2018 primary, Bishop had raised $2.1 million and had $1.7 million on hand to Slotkin's $2.9 million raised and $2.2 million available. 

None of the other Republican candidates raised more than $60,000 last quarter. 

Paul Junge

Junge and Hoover are the only candidates to have gone on television so far with ads. The pro-Hoover commercial was paid for by a political action committee called Restore Our Republic, a group connected to the Michigan Conservative Coalition.

Despite Junge’s fundraising edge, Democratic consultant Hemond predicted the Republican candidates in August would all “finish pretty close to each other.” 

Differences on issues

A former prosecutor and former news anchor, 53-year-old Junge moved back to Michigan last fall after a long hiatus from the state. 

Junge spent 2014-18 in Washington, D.C., where he worked for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee before gaining a senior adviser position at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services when Trump took office. Junge also spent time working in the family business, All Star Maintenance, which maintains military housing. 

As a former prosecutor, Junge described calls to defund the police as “absolutely ridiculous” and he argued that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer should be working more with the GOP-led Legislature to create better outcomes and better “buy in” among residents.

“What the people of the 8th District want is more conservative leadership and representation,” he said. “They want someone who instead of trying to impeach and remove the president will work with the president.”

A former security adviser for the U.S. Marine Corps, 39-year-old Hoover said he was motivated to run “while watching American citizens’ rights be stripped away” by globalist corporations, taxes and infringements on the Second Amendment. 

“You put me in Congress, I’m going to restore the trajectory of the nation to that of constitutional powers,” Hoover said. “I am an advocate for American citizens being first, second and third.”

Detmer, 44, is running as a “constitutional patriot” committed to bringing more pharmaceutical production into the United States, deregulating industries to bring jobs back to Michigan and protecting Second Amendment rights. 

“If it falls to things like red flag laws, which are in my opinion Constitution killers, then the rest of our constitutional rights are at risk,” he said.

For Detmer, a focus on the economy is “absolutely crucial” in the coming months as the state struggles to emerge from the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.

A career litigator, Lyke, 44, said she would strive to “place America first” should she win, chiefly by protecting individuals’ First and Second Amendment rights. 

“I’ve never let up or given in and now I want to go to Congress to fight for our district,” Lyke said. “I am sick and tired of the attempts to chip away out our country and attack our freedoms.”

Like her colleagues, Lyke took issue with China’s production of pharmaceuticals. 

“We can actually have those drugs made right here in America because we have that capability,” she said.

Breaking with Trump 

All of the candidates are firm supporters of Trump, but each said they're willing to speak their own mind if they disagree with the president.

Junge said he hopes to also work with the Democratic Party to reach consensus on issues that have long evaded resolution. 

“I’m not looking to get out and attack Trump, but I will stay consistent with the values I’m talking about and those of the 8th District,” he said.

Lyke also said she wouldn’t hesitate to disagree with Trump if the situation called for it, but she emphasized the need for civil discourse among elected officials. 

"I’m a mediator,” she said. “As a mediator, you need to look at both sides of the issues and come to a resolution.”

Alan Hoover

Detmer said he would challenge the president or any other elected official he believed had strayed outside the confines of the Constitution. “That’s the only way we fix the problems that we have is to be honest about what’s going on,” he said.

Hoover said he bases his policy decisions on "logical thought," adding that "I do not make decisions based on my feelings ever.”

Controversies for candidates

In recent months, Detmer has participated in rallies protesting Whitmer’s stay-at-home order, which has resulted in controversy. 

During the April 15 “Operation Gridlock” rally, Detmer was photo-bombed by the neo-fascist group The Proud Boys. When individuals criticized the photo, Detmer took to Facebook to explain the group was “protecting our freedoms.”

Republican Mike Detmer is running for Congress in the 8th District, aiming to challenge Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly.

On June 18, during an American Patriots Rally, Detmer referred to protester calls for defunding the police as “this whole race nonsense.” He told The Detroit News he meant that the push to defund the police was “nonsense.”

In 2016, Detmer declared bankruptcy after losing his job when his position was terminated.

“That was at the very tail end of the Obama economy,” Detmer said. “What I’m fighting for is that our economy is rebuilt and is strong so this doesn’t happen to other people.”

In 2009, Hoover sued Dearborn Heights police in a case that made it to the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals after Hoover alleged his Fourth and 14th Amendment rights had been violated during a 2007 traffic stop. The appellate court dismissed the case.

Police had pulled Hoover over after he was driving slowly at about 1:20 a.m. through a neighborhood with a history of break-ins, but later detained him on suspicion of domestic violence and attempting to leave the state with his child, according to an appeals court summary. 

Hoover’s now ex-wife told police her husband had post-traumatic distress disorder and at times got violent, according to the appeals court summary. She told police her husband was behaving violently prior to the October 2018 traffic stop, according to a summary of his ex-wife's affidavit provided in the appellate decision.

His wife reported him to the police, according to the appellate opinion. Hoover eventually was sent to a VA hospital for psychiatric evaluation and released after a few days.

Hoover denied the allegations of violence and noted he would have been charged with a crime or revoked custody of his son if there was any factual basis to the accusations. Five months before the alleged incident, he noted, the Detroit Free Press profiled him in a Father's Day feature. 

Hoover alleged the police were working with his wife when they pulled him over.

“That case, I was a victim,” he said. “And that’s why I filed a lawsuit.”

Slotkin has faced her own controversy, but it may not help her eventual Republican opponent. Late last year, Slotkin faced criticism during large town halls after she backed Trump’s impeachment.

But the political cost of that stand has been swallowed by the avalanche of new issues emerging in the last few months. 

“It seems impossible to believe," Sellek said, "but, under the current political environment where a new storm arrives every 24 to 48 hours, impeachment has been forgotten."