This story has been updated to correct a reporting error regarding Elissa Slotkin’s position on Medicare.


Among the things that stick in the craw of 8th congressional candidate Chris Smith is how Elissa Slotkin has said — more than once — that she “would never” be running if Republican Mike Rogers was still in office.

Yes, there are several policy difference between the two Democratic candidates in the race to take on Rogers’ successor, Republican incumbent Mike Bishop, of Rochester.

And Smith isn’t shy about highlighting those, too, as he swims upstream against a candidate generating attention from Newsweek, NBC News and other national news outlets. The same candidate who is racking up endorsements from organized labor, Planned Parenthood and other traditional Democratic interest groups.

We’ll get to those policy differences. But first there’s Slotkin’s comments on Bill Ballenger’s “Friday Morning Podcast” last fall. As a young CIA officer, she said she was charged with briefing Rogers, the head of the House Intelligence Committee.

“I remember being kind of proud that he was the congressman from back home, and Michigan, and had a very strong national security background,” she said at the time. “I tell people very openly that I would never be running in this race if Mike Rogers were the congressman because he had offices all over the district. He was engaging people. He had a strong presence on Capitol Hill that was bringing things back to the district. And that, to me, is the core thing. I don’t have to agree with everything he believed in to know that he was working hard for the district.”

Smith finds this statement to be outrageous considering Bishop and Rogers have nearly identical conservative voting record scores based on at least one ratings service. How could someone who is running as a Democrat in 2018 be worthy of the party’s nomination if she wouldn’t have, theoretically, run in 2002-2012?

“There are Democrats in this district who spent time and money to get rid of Mike Rogers in election after election,” Smith said. “They want an alternative choice because they don’t know what that means for how she’s going to vote.”

To understand Slotkin’s thinking on Bishop is to understand why the campaign of the former acting assistant secretary for defense is getting legs.

The 8th Congressional District is a marginally Republican district. Even if the “Blue Wave” splashes into Ingham, Livingston and northern Oakland counties, a super progressive Berniecrat is going to struggle to stay afloat with independents.

Dorsey Weber Gude, of East Lansing threw a house party for Slotkin a few weeks back because she wanted to her friends to see what she saw — a pragmatist interested in progress.

“Even though Elissa and I might not have the same stance on all the issues, she’s absolutely the person I want representing me in Congress,” Gude said.

Take health care for instance. Smith is four-square for an improved single-payer health care system that would include better coverage for prescriptions, dental care and eye exams.

Slotkin is looking for a more bipartisan solution on the Affordable Care Act with an eye toward a Medicare buy-in option. Smith would not be one to have a Washington fundraiser held for him by an Aetna official and other health care-related lobbyists like Slotkin did last April. But Smith isn’t raising Slotkin-like money either, which she’s doing without corporate PAC money.

Smith has been consistent in wanting to ban all pipelines under the Great Lakes. Slotkin initially has said Line 5 and other pipelines shouldn’t be allowed to continue unless they pass independent, third-party safety tests. She’s since said Line 5 should be shut down.

Smith wants to end public military-style rifle sales and limit the magazine capacity size for those rifles already in private ownership. Slotkin would rather find common ground on background checks and other measures as opposed to public officials sticking to their sides and not getting anything done.

Smith wants it clear that no public schoolteachers should be armed. Slotkin stresses that the only person who should carry a weapon in school is a “trained security professional.”

Smith wants free community college for displaced workers. Slotkin is more for strengthening Pell grants and expanding the amount of money for school-to-work programs.

Smith wants the $15 minimum wage, while Slotkin is concentrating on making sure workers are pulling in a living wage. Smith is out front in wanting legalized recreational marijuana, while Slotkin has not been.

In the end, they’re both Democrats. But it’s clear Smith and Slotkin are approaching this race from much different angles.

(Kyle Melinn is news editor of the Capitol news service MIRS. His email is melinnky@gmail.com.)