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How political newcomer became favorite for Detroit area U.S. House seat

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

In less than a year, Macomb County businesswoman Lisa McClain has gone from political unknown to the doorstep of the U.S. House of Representatives and potentially a position of influence in the Michigan Republican Party.

GOP operatives who've watched the race in the 10th Congressional District this summer credited McClain, the 54-year-old primary victor, for her hard work on the campaign trail, her fundraising advantage and her outsider approach.

Lisa McClain, running for Michigan's 10th District, gives a hug to Macomb County prosecutor candidate state Sen. Peter Lucido at Palazzo Grande in Shelby Township on July 23, 2020.

The 10th — currently represented by Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden, who decided against running for reelection — leans heavily Republican, so McClain is the favorite in her general election race against Democrat Kimberly Bizon of Lexington.

She would be following in the footsteps of Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller, who last held the post four years ago. If McClain wins in November, the first-time candidate from Bruce Township will become the first female Republican from Michigan to hold a seat in Congress since 2016.

“She’s the new face of the Republican Party in Metro Detroit,” said Scott Hagerstrom, a longtime Republican consultant in Michigan.

Currently, there are only 13 U.S. House members who are Republican and women, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. They account for 3% of the entire House membership and 6.6% of the Republican minority.

Three candidates ran in the Republican primary to replace Mitchell. Many political insiders believed state Rep. Shane Hernandez, R-Port Huron, to be the favorite in the weeks leading up to the Tuesday election.

Hernandez had Mitchell's endorsement and benefited from $1.5 million in spending by the conservative group Club for Growth. McClain, a senior vice president at Hantz Group, said her own polling showed the race to be a "dead heat" about three weeks before Election Day.

But when voters cast their ballots in the district that runs from northern Macomb County to Huron County at the top of the Thumb, McClain got 42% to Hernandez's 36%. The third candidate, former Selfridge Air National Guard Base commander Doug Slocum of Macomb Township got 22%.

Voters want a "normal, everyday person" to represent them, McClain said in a Wednesday interview, adding that while she hasn't sought political office previously, she been active in her community through charitable causes and her work at Hantz.

"I am an outsider," McClain said. "I think that outsider sells.”

She launched her campaign for Congress in October 2019 after a conversation around the dinner table with her family. Her daughter, Ryan, challenged McClain to do something about the problems she saw in politics, the candidate has said.

McClain spent 11 years working within American Express before she and a group of other employees split off to start Hantz Financial, a financial advising firm based in Southfield. The business grew from zero clients to more than 700 employees.

She received financial support from other Hantz employees and invested $1.45 million of her own money in her U.S. House campaign, according to fundraising disclosures. The self-funding allowed McClain to get her name out to voters in the 10th District and cope with an onslaught of spending by Club for Growth, which backed Hernandez.

While Hernandez had represented less populated areas of the 10th District in the Michigan House, McClain won heavy support in her home county of Macomb, where there were more votes to be had.

Shane Hernandez, state representative, District 83.

McClain will be one of the few Republican members of Congress who are women and she has "real world experience," said Stu Sandler, co-founder of the Lansing-based consulting firm Grand River Strategies, which worked with Hernandez in the race.

"She could be a real force," Sandler added.

The 10th District results were "a little surprising," said Christina Russell, chairwoman of the Lapeer County Republican Party. Hernandez has a voting record but not a lot was known about McClain, she said.

"She put a lot of signs out there. She had a lot of robocalls. She really made herself known,” Russell said.

McClain ran a "great campaign," said Shelby Township Clerk Stan Grot, chairman of the 10th District Republican Party.  The district party's executive committee had previously decided to support Hernandez, he said.

Grot mentioned McClain's financial advantage, saying it "always helps" to have the money needed to execute a campaign.

But Hagerstrom, a longtime political consultant in Michigan, said both McClain and Hernandez had the money they needed to tell their stories.

Hernandez has been part of the political system while McClain is an outsider, Hagerstrom said. Too often, races become a game of "insiders" trying to pick someone to win, he added.

"When the people have their say, you have different results," Hagerstrom said. “I think she is going to be a fresh, new face."

McClain had the endorsements of Michigan Sen. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, and Corey Lewandowski, former campaign manager for President Donald Trump.

While women currently fill five of the seven U.S. House seats held by Michigan Democrats, men fill all six of the seats held by Michigan Republicans.

While McClain is poised to change that dynamic, she'll also be a key GOP candidate in Metro Detroit, the state's major television market, and an area where President Donald Trump will have to do well to win Michigan this fall. Trump won Macomb County, but lost Oakland and Wayne counties.

Laura Cox, chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, touted McClain's "hard work." 

"I know Lisa will be a strong ally for President Trump over these next four years," Cox said in a Wednesday statement, "working to enact America First policies that will better the lives of Michiganders."

cmauger@detroitnews.com