POLITICS

Rep. Elissa Slotkin declares U.S. Senate bid as some potential rivals drop out

Washington — U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a Lansing Democrat, said Monday she will run for Michigan's open U.S. Senate seat next year in a race that could be key in deciding which party controls the chamber in 2025.

The third-term congresswoman is the first Democratic contender to publicly launch a bid for the seat to be vacated by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who last month opted against running for a fifth term. Slotkin launched a campaign website and video Monday describing her path to public service and motivations for running for the upper chamber.

Americans seem to be "living crisis to crisis," she said in the video, but "there are some things that are really simple," like protecting American manufacturing, children's safety, democracy and pathways to a middle-class lifestyles.

"We need a new generation of leaders that thinks differently, works harder and never forgets that we are public servants," she said. "Our country is going to get through this. It's hard work, but that's what Michiganders do."

The announcement Monday came after potential rivals including state Sen. Mallory McMorrow of Royal Oak and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II indicated they weren't seeking the post in recent days.

Slotkin, 46, is a centrist who has won three competitive House races in Michigan's old 8th and new 7th Districts — one of Michigan's most politically mixed territories covering Lansing and surrounding areas.

She most recently defeated former Republican state Sen. Tom Barrett of Charlotte by nearly 6 percentage points in November, securing her third term through the end of 2024. The ad-tracking firm AdImpact said this month the $36.6 million spent in advertising on the Slotkin-Barrett race was the most spent on any U.S. House race in the country in 2022.

Slotkin, a former CIA analyst and top Pentagon official, has demonstrated crossover appeal in her past races. She’s viewed as a rising star in the Democratic Party with a national security background, a bipartisan record and a no-nonsense approach to legislating.

Her great-grandfather started the meat company Hygrade Foods that created the iconic Ballpark Franks first sold at Tiger Stadium.

She moved back to her family’s Holly farm in 2017 to run for office after about 15 years in various posts in the U.S. intelligence and defense communities during the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. That time included three deployments to Iraq as a CIA analyst and five years at the Pentagon as a top adviser to two secretaries of defense on security and defense issues.

Slotkin decided she would dedicate her life to public service on Sept. 11, 2001, when a terrorist attack on New York City coincided with her second day of graduate school, she said.

"Nothing tested me more than when my mom was diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer and didn't have health insurance," Slotkin said in the campaign video, detailing how the family sought care for her even as she was forced to declare bankruptcy.

In Congress, Slotkin has tried to cultivate an independent brand, joining the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus and twice voting against California Democrat Nancy Pelosi for speaker of the House, though in January she voted for the current Democratic Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York.

She serves on the House Armed Services Committee and recently joined the Agriculture Committee.

John Sellek, a Republican consultant and founder of Harbor Strategic Public Affairs, has suggested she would be almost "tailor-made" for Democrats hoping to hold on to the Senate seat because of her history of winning competitive races and focus on kitchen table and middle-class issues that have proven to be a winning strategy for other Democrats in statewide races.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which fundraises and campaigns for Republicans to win control of the Senate, said in a statement that she is "a liberal politician with some serious ethical baggage."

Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel of Northville also took a swipe at Slotkin, saying she's voted with Biden "100% of the time."

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a political action committee aligned with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, said Slotkin's departure would make her targeted seat in the 7th District "even more winnable in 2024."

"Democrats' tough road to retaking the majority gets even harder as their top recruits continue heading for the exits," Congressional Leadership Fund spokesman Calvin Moore said Monday.

Slotkin is the first widely known candidate to jump into the Senate race and the first Democrat. U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens of Birmingham and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, both Democrats initially floated as potential contenders, have also said they do not plan to run.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson of Detroit and the actor and author Hill Harper are also said to be considering a campaign. Businessman Nasser Beydoun created an exploratory committee last month.

"Secretary Benson's primary focus is on carrying out accessible, secure and accurate elections this year and in 2024, but she continues to hear from people asking her to run, and she is considering all options," Benson adviser Alex Shashlo said.

While Slotkin could still attract a more progressive challenger, her moderate profile would position her well for the general election, said David Dulio, a political scientist at Oakland University.

"Could someone else jump in from the left? Sure. Someone from Detroit who is going to stand up for the more progressive wing of the party to ‘keep her honest.’ Sure," Dulio said. "But that person is not going to win this Democratic primary."

Nikki Snyder, a 38-year-old member of State Board of Education from Dexter, announced she would run on the Republican side earlier this month.

State Sen. Ruth Johnson, R-Holly; businessman Kevin Rinke of Bloomfield Township; and U.S. Rep. Lisa McClain, R-Bruce Township, also have been weighing campaigns.

Former U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Grand Rapids Township, said he hadn't ruled it out, and neither has U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Holland, a spokesman said. Former gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon also recently met with the NRSC, according to two sources familiar with the meeting.

Barrett plans to run for Congress in the 7th District again and is "putting the pieces in place," adviser Jason Roe said. "He was looking at it irrespective of Slotkin's decision, but her vacating the seat makes it more attractive."

The new 7th Congressional District includes Ingham, Livingston, Clinton and Shiawassee counties, most of Eaton County and small portions of Oakland and Genesee counties.

On the Democratic side, possible contenders for Slotkin's seat could include Lansing Mayor Andy Schor, former state Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. of East Lansing, state Sen. Sam Singh of East Lansing and Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum, who tweeted Monday that she's being encouraged to run.

Adrian Hemond, a Democratic consultant and CEO of the firm Grassroots Midwest, called Slotkin the frontrunner and “heavy favorite” to clinch the Senate seat in 2024, noting her fundraising acumen and her track record of winning competitive swing districts.

“She's gonna win. The field seems pretty clear for her on the Dem side, at least in terms of Democrats that could pose a credible threat to her,” said Hemond, noting that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Gilchrist and Stevens of Birmingham all passed on a run.

“And the Republicans don't have a candidate. I mean, Nikki Snyder has filed, but that's not real. The Republican track record in statewide federal elections in Michigan is real bad, and so you need a real high-quality candidate on the Republican side to make this thing work.”

Prior to President Donald Trump winning Michigan in 2016, the last time that Republicans won a federal statewide election in Michigan was with Spencer Abraham to the Senate in 1994.

Hemond also said most people haven’t heard of Harper, 56, a Black actor known for shows like "CSI" and "Covert Affairs" and who owns the Roasting Plant coffee shop in Detroit. He previously served on President Barack Obama's Cancer Panel.

“There are parts of the state where Slotkin has less name ID, but she has had tens of millions of dollars spent in multiple media markets in Michigan behind her prior candidacies for Congress, building her name ID. Hill Harper doesn't have that,” Hemond said.

“Unless he has the ability to self-fund several million dollars to get a campaign up and running, I don't think she should be worried about that at all.”

Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan, said Slotkin has shown herself to be a "formidable candidate" and a "prolific" fundraiser who works hard for her constituents.

"Congresswoman Slotkin has shown that she works hard for the folks that she represents," he said. "Do I think that there are some areas where we, as progressives, may have to push? I'm sure that's the case. But I think that's probably the case with anyone who runs. And we certainly should be prepared to do that on our side."

Slotkin first ran for office in 2018, when she defeated incumbent Republican Rep. Mike Bishop of Rochester in what was then Michigan's 8th District, encompassing Ingham and Livingston Counties and the northern part of Oakland County. She won reelection in 2020 in the same district against Republican candidate Paul Junge.

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