There’s been a sea change in Washington when it comes to picking the Michigan congressional districts that are worth national attention.
For several cycles, literally millions of dollars poured into the Lansing media market and Eaton County for control of the 7 th Congressional District, which Democrats won in 2008 only to lose again in 2010 and every election thereafter.
But after U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, blew out a well-funded and well-organized Gretchen Driskell by 15 points during an election in which Democrat Hillary Clinton was supposed to carry Michigan, the national Dems aren’t trying to entice the Blue Dog Democrats in mostly rural farm districts … for now, anyway.
Instead, they are going after the suburban moms and dads who find nothing endearing about Trump’s potty mouth and general improper behavior.
That’s leading D.C. to the 11 th Congressional in Southeast Michigan and, closer to home, the 8 th Congressional District. MI-8 is home to not only the increasingly liberal bastion of Ingham County, but a growing number of Rochester and Rochester Hills suburbanites who don’t think the answer to school gun violence is arming teachers.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is super excited about a fresh face who has emerged in MI-8 and who “checks all the boxes,” so to speak.
— was born and raised in northern Oakland County (where a plurality of the voters live) — is the offspring of the inventor of the Ball Park Frank hot dog (what’s more American than that?) —worked for the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department as a Middle East analyst, which led her to be deployed to Baghdad, (OK, that’s more American than a Tiger Stadium hot dog.)
— Has raised more money in the last couple campaign cycles than incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, and is close to matching him in cash on hand ($971,645 to $709,599).
— Is a female candidate with backing from pro-choice women’s cash cow, EMILY’s List. AFSCME, the carpenters, electrical workers, Michigan Education Association and a bunch of other progressive groups are backing her, too.
All this may spell trouble for Bishop in a 56 percent Republican-leaning district where Trump performed well but not great compared to the 7 th or the 1 st , another place the Republicans and Democrats once dropped a lot of money.
The National Republican Campaign Committee, Bishop’s folks and Republicans aren’t waiting around for Slotkin to catch fire.
They are hitting her where they feel she’s more vulnerable — her Michigan residency. While a Holly native who graduated from a Bloomfield Hills private school, Slotkin has spent most of her adult life in Washington.
It wasn’t until last May that Slotkin became an “inhabitant” of Michigan when she registered to vote. She announced her candidacy for office two months later. Still, she’s kept her D.C. home and claimed a homestead exemption there last fall until the “error” was caught and she refunded the money.
Republicans are claiming the Democrats parachuted this resumé-perfect carpetbagger into MI-8 to take out a public servant in Bishop, who has worked and raised a family in the district for years.
“What the Democrats are doing across the country is implanting D.C. insiders like Slotkin, who are good fundraisers, in place like Michigan,” said Sarah Anderson chief of staff of the Michigan Republican Party. “They want this to increase their chances of winning, but it’s not going to work.”
For her part, Slotkin makes no apologies for returning to the family farm to start her new consulting firm after years of serving her country in Iraq and the nation’s capital.
“Every time you hear them use the carpetbagger label, especially for someone who grew up in Michigan, your ears should perk up that they literally have nothing to run on,” Slotkin said. “If a sitting representative needs a pat-on-the-back issue, they have nothing they are proud of.”
Slotkin first needs to win the Democratic nomination in August. She has at least one announced opponent in Michigan State University criminal justice instructor Chris Smith, who grew up in East Lansing and returned to the area 24 years ago.
He’s a “grassroots” candidate who lines up with Bernie Sanders policy-wise — single payer healthcare and campaign finance reform, for example. The $40,500 he reported in the bank at the end of the 2017 is well short of what Bishop or Slotkin amassed, but he’s working.
And Driskell is back. She believes that the political winds likely will be blowing in a different direction in 2018 so she’s diving into Walberg rematch with another aggressive campaign that’s raising as much money as the incumbent.
But for the first time in many years the national spotlight isn’t shining brightest on her MI-7 race. It’s moved north to MI-8.
(Melinn is editor of MIRS, a newsletter covering politics and state government.)