Scholten launches bid for Grand Rapids area swing seat held by Meijer

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — Democrat Hillary Scholten announced Tuesday that she's launching another campaign for Congress in a race that could end up a rematch between her and Republican U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer. 

Scholten, an attorney and mom of two from Grand Rapids, is the first Democrat to join the race for the newly drawn 3rd District, which covers the Grand Rapids, Grand Haven and Muskegon areas. 

As in 2020, when the district drew millions in money and attention from outside groups, the new 3rd is expected to be a battleground this fall in the midterm elections.

"This pandemic has intensified so many of the existing problems in our community, like health care, educational challenges, the economy, and we're facing also an unprecedented attack on our electoral system," Scholten said in an interview.

"As a former social worker, a mom of two young kids and an attorney who served our U.S. Department of Justice, I have the experience and the perspective and the vision needed to lead west Michigan forward."

In 2020, Scholten lost to Meijer in the old 3rd District 47% to 53% when the seat was open due to Libertarian Rep. Justin Amash's retirement. The contest was the most expensive U.S. House race in Michigan in 2020, totaling $16.1 million in candidate and outside spending, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced last week that  Meijer's seat is among 38 GOP-held or open seats that it's targeting this fall. The DCCC said it views the new 3rd as trending toward Democrats and noted Meijer's primary challenge by John Gibbs, a Republican endorsed by former President Donald Trump.

With Democrats expected to be playing defense all over the country this fall, the district could be a "rare" offensive opportunity for them, given the new district lines and the potential for Meijer to have trouble facing Gibbs in the primary, said Kyle Kondik, who studies the U.S. House at the University of Virginia's Center for Politics.

"Scholten running gives the Democrats a real candidate in this race who performed decently well in 2020. The most important action here is in the Republican primary, I think," Kondik said.

If Meijer wins, he could probably hold onto the seat in the general election, even though President Joe Biden won the district in 2020, Kondik said.

"But if he loses, Democrats would have a golden opportunity to flip this district against a Trumpier Republican alternative," he added.

Scholten, 39, had campaigned as a practical problem solver grounded in her faith as a member of the Christian Reformed Church, which she said inspired her public service. Republicans in attack ads tried to link her to the defund the police movement, though she said she opposed defunding law enforcement.

"Voters already rejected Hillary Scholten because of her radical anti-law enforcement views and support for higher taxes. They will reject her again," said Mike Berg, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Meijer, 34, of Grand Rapids Township is an Iraq veteran and the grandson of retailer Frederik Meijer. He serves on the House Foreign Affairs and Homeland Security committees.

"I’m running on my record as a proven conservative who is focused on upholding our Constitution and delivering commonsense results for West Michigan," Meijer said in a statement.

"So far, our campaign for re-election has received strong support largely from Michigan families. This momentum is exciting, and I look forward to continuing to discuss the many important issues facing our country with the voters who live and work in MI-03.”

Meijer reported about $529,460 in receipts last quarter, including $75,000 he loaned his campaign. He ended last year with $1.2 million cash on hand. Gibbs brought in about $104,467, including $53,000 he loaned his campaign, and had $83,246 in cash reserves as of Dec. 31, according to disclosure reports.

Meijer's first months in office last year were upended by the Jan. 6 attack and the subsequent impeachment of Trump. He is one of the 10 House Republicans who voted for Trump's impeachment, and Scholten said she reached out to him after that vote to thank him. 

"At the same time, there’s some real, fundamental policy differences," she said, giving the example of Meijer's November vote against the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package.

Meijer at the time accused Democratic leadership of playing "petty politics" by linking passage of the bill with a procedural vote on Democrats' partisan Build Back Better Act.

Scholten also put some distance between her and the White House. She said President Joe Biden needs to do more to address inflation and "tamp down" rising costs for families. She also wants the federal government to move away from broad mandates for vaccines and masking, saying a one-size-fits-all approach is "not what we need."

"Small businesses get really hamstrung when they have too many compliance (hoops) to jump through," Scholten said. "And that doesn't mean that we shouldn't be doing anything to stop the spread. I just think it has to happen at a more localized level."

Since the 2020 election, Scholten said she went back to work as an attorney, joining the firm Miller Johnson, chairing its government affairs practice group. 

mburke@detroitnews.com