Once upon a time, City Pulse published its election preview guide the last issue before the election. But absentee voting has changed the election landscape. Thus, starting last year, City Pulse began publishing its guides a few weeks ahead of the elections. This year, our preview of the Primary Election is nearly three weeks before the Aug. 7 voting day. In the following pages you’ll find a look at the competitive races both statewide and locally, including five Ingham County commissioners’ contests and three significant ballot issues: the Ingham County justice and library millages and the East Lansing income tax. Next week, City Pulse will announce its endorsements in some races and ballot issues. For more on what’s on the primary election ballot, we highly recommend that you check out the League of Women Voters’ guide at www.vote411.org.)
President Donald Trump’s name isn’t on the Aug. 7 ballot, but his impact will be felt up and down Michigan’s Democratic and Republican primary ballot.
The Ds believe the backlash of Trump’s unexpected 2016 victory will combine with frustrations that Bernie Sanders got screwed out of the Democratic nomination to unleash the type of motivated voter that got progressive Dana Nessel the party’s attorney general nod three months ago.
Across the state, 25 percent more Democrats filed for state offices this year than Republicans, compared to 2010, when both major parties fielded roughly the same number.
Both chemical industry entrepreneur Shri Thanedar and former Detroit Public Health Director Abdul El-Sayed are trying to ride Sanders’ progressive movement into the governor’s office. El-Sayed is seen as the most politically pure of the two. The Rhodes scholar crafted a detailed progressive agenda that he passionately and effectively sells on the campaign stump.
Meanwhile, Thanedar is running a more personalitydriven campaign. He espouses progressive policies, but his views take a back seat to his compelling ragsto-riches story of immigrating from India in 1978 with nothing but $20 and his blue suitcase. Thanedar’s clever and often-run commercials earned him frontrunner status for a few months.
Former Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer is riding a different wave. It’s a #MeToo movement powered by disgusted women who can’t believe America elected a “chauvinist pig” in 2016 and are done with accepting blatant sexism as “just the way it is.” A couple weeks after declaring her candidacy in January 2017, Whitmer delivered a powerful speech in front of the largest known gathering on the state Capitol lawn.
To a growing number of Michiganders, she the one wanting to “fix the damn roads,” as her TV commercials declare.
The latest MIRS-Target Insyght poll shows the union-backed Whitmer up 40 percent to 19 and 17 percent over Thanedar and El-Sayed, respectively.
On the Republican side, it’s all about Trump. For where two or three gather with Attorney General Bill Schuette, Trump’s name is mentioned within 60 seconds.
If the utterance of Trump’s name at the first GOP debate were a drinking game, participants would be passed out 20 minutes in.
It’s not as if Schuette doesn’t have 30 years of public service of his own to speak of. It’s that his two largest cases as attorney general — Flint water crisis response and the Michigan State University/Larry Nassar response — are still active and politically volatile.
Since polling showing Republicans coming around to Trump, Schuette has seen value in talking about how his top primary opponent disavowed Trump weeks before the 2016 election.
Lt. Gov. Brian Calley ended up voting for Trump at his wife’s urging, but he’s more interested in spinning the discussion into Michigan’s “economic comeback” and his role in helping Gov. Rick Snyder address sticky issues in Detroit and Flint.
The Republican primary has almost become a proxy war between Trump and Snyder, with the later using his remaining pots of money to prop up his wingman whenever possible.
To be fair, the only candidate to support Trump from beginning to end in 2016, however, was Midland Dr. Jim Hines, an outsider candidate who likely would be more competitive if he had Thanedar’s millions of dollars.
Conservative Sen. Patrick Colbeck is picking up what remains of the Tea Party movement in Michigan, but he’s operating with less money than Hines.
Several other primaries are on the ballot Aug. 7. Below is a preview of the national and statewide offices.
There’s no bigger display of Republicans’ falling over themselves to snuggle with Trump than Michigan’s GOP U.S. Senate primary. The latest pro-John James commercial claims, “Liberal Sandy Pensler stands against President Trump,” and then plays a clip where the successful Southeast Michigan business executive said he does not “like his personal style” and “I can’t speak at fourth grade level like he does.”
Meanwhile, Pensler has been running radio ads thanking Trump for his Macomb County visit since late April and has taken some heat for saying in a Detroit News editorial that the president’s tariffs would help Michigan.
James, a U.S. Army military veteran, exchanged a military salute with Trump during that April 28 visit. The more conservative of the two, James and his family owns a Detroit supply chain company and has gotten a fair share of face time on Fox News.
But Pensler has put at least $5 million of his own money into the race. Every recent poll conducted on the race shows his corresponding TV ads have paid dividends.
Three-term incumbent U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Delta Twp., is waiting in the wings with her $9 million in cash on hand.
Democrat Elissa Slotkin has raised twice as much money as every other Democrat running for the 8th Congressional District in the last 16 years … combined. The national attention the former national security official has generated in this traditionally lean- Republican seat can’t be overstated.
She’s outraising any Michigander running for Congress — incumbent or not. She’s highlighting national stories about how first-time female candidates are making significant impacts in competitive seats.
About a third of the $1.15 million she raised between April 1 and June 30 is coming directly from Michigan contributions. The rest is mostly small-dollar contributions from Democratic sympathizers from across the country who see Slotkin as someone who can unseat two-term U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop.
She’s not as progressive as primary opponent Chris Smith, a Michigan State University criminal justice professor. She’d rather see a Medicare buy-in program whereas Smith wants a single-payer health care system.
Endorsed by the MDP’s Progressive Caucus, Smith is valiantly trying to harness Sanders’ more liberal message with grassroots supporters.
In the 7th District, a similar scenario is playing out to represent in Eaton County/ Jackson County/ southeast Michigan, where former state Rep. Gretchen Driskell is fending off a challenge from her political left from Progressive Caucus endorsed Steve Friday, although Friday is nowhere near as active as Smith.
Of the 43 Michigan congressional candidates who filed their 2nd quarter fundraising information with the Federal Elections Commission on Sunday night, Friday’s $3,462 was the lightest. He’s claiming he’s only spent $680 so far on his campaign, while Smith is reporting that he’s spent $81,117.
Driskell, a commercial real estate agent, is Saline’s longest serving female mayor (1999-2012). She lost by 15 points to incumbent U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg in 2016, but has outraised the incumbent in the last three reporting quarters.
Michigan State Senate
Democrat Kelly Rossman-McKinney waits in the wings with a pile of cash as state Reps. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville, and Brett Roberts, R-Charlotte, duke it out for the Republican nomination in the 24th District.
A political action committee connected to Consumers Energy has aggressively campaigned for the more moderate Roberts, who also benefited from a Gov. Rick Snyder-sponsored fundraiser. Otherwise, the southern Eaton County farmer isn’t known for his deep pockets and comes from a far corner of this Eaton-Clinton-Shiawassee County District. Recently, Roberts has found himself in a contentious fight with Charlotte officials over his plans to expand his Dairy Queen restaurant.
Barrett, a conservative National Guard Army pilot, is a tenacious door-knocker who has won two highdollar competitive races. He kicked off his campaign at the Country Mill Orchard, known around the region for declining to host same-sex weddings for religious reasons.
He also made news late last year when he landed a National Guard helicopter at Perry High School’s football field to deliver the game ball for an Oct. 6 game. While some questioned his political motivations, an investigation found no wrongdoing. Barrett continuously contended the veterans appreciation event was a routine outreach mission.
In the 23rd District, Andrea Pollock, the deputy political director for the Michigan Republican Party, and real estate agent Nancy Denny are running in the GOP primary. Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., D-East Lansing, is running unopposed on the Democratic side.
Michigan State House
67th District — The marquee matchup in this south Lansing/rural Ingham County district evaporated when Williamston School Board President Greg Talberg dropped out to fend off a recall attempt spurred by his support for a more lenient transgender student policy.
Instead, Ingham County Commissioner Kara Hope has emerged as the only Democrat staging anything resembling a competitive campaign. The attorney and founding president of the Holt Community Arts Council is endorsed by just about everybody and is the clear frontrunner to succeed term-limited Rep. Tom Cochran.
Twenty-something progressive Alec Findlay is running for the second straight cycle and has the support of the MDP’s Progressive Caucus. Law librarian Brent Domann, Dansville High graduate Derek Stephens and liberal Max Donovan are also on the ballot. Donovan earned the backing the MDP’s Cannabis Caucus.
On the Republican side, former Mason Mayor Leon Clark is running against Clyde Thomas, who runs a trucking company and Cornerstone Contracting.
68th District — Seven Democrats are seeking to replace now- Mayor Andy Schor, but the story has been the political re-emergence of Paul DeWeese, the former state representative from Williamston (1999- 2002) now seeking the Lansing-based district.
It’s not the length of DeWeese’s absence that’s the story here. It’s that the defrocked physician is on criminal probation and fresh off paying about $1 million in fines and fees for insurance fraud and illegally treating heroin addicts with opioids.
Still, DeWeese, 62, has scraped together the funding to run a full-fledged, competitive campaign centered around criminal justice reform and compassion for those battling addiction.
Ingham County Commission Chair woman Sarah Anthony has emerged as the clear frontrunner in this race, however, gobbling up endorsements from just about every local elected official, labor union and traditional Democratic interest group. The one-time staffer for former Rep. Joan Bauer was first elected to the commission in 2012 as the country’s youngest female African American.
Kelly Collison, who chairs of the Michigan Democratic Party (MDP)’s Progressive Caucus, is putting together a late charge from the political left, fueled by an agenda of universal health care and a $15 minimum wage. The former Bernie Sanders volunteer’s late entrance into the race has her and her loyal band of volunteers working on a condensed schedule to boost her name ID.
Former legislative staffer Grant Bradley and Lansing attorney Eric Nelson are also seeking both the full two-year term and the remaining six weeks of Schor’s expired term. Progressive Benjamin Guins and Kenyan refugee Farhan Sheikh- Omar are only seeking the full two-year term.
69th House District — One of the state’s most competitive and expensive Democratic primaries is taking shape in this East Lansing/Meridian Townshipbased district with Meridian Township Treasurer Julie Brixie, Ingham County Commissioner Teri Banas and former Commissioner Penelope Tsernoglou.
All three have been raising money, sending out fliers, commissioning polls, making videos and knocking on doors. Brixie, first elected Meridian Township trustee in 2000 and served two terms before being elected treasurer in 2008. Her hesitation about supporting Meridian’s 2013 Human Rights Ordinance for legal and financial reasons has been pointed out during the campaign, although Brixie did end up supporting the measure.
If Brixie, 52, isn’t successful, it would not be for lack of effort. The perceived frontrunner is showing up everywhere and doing everything to present herself as the best option to succeed term-limited Rep. Sam Singh.
Born in England, Banas has a compelling story about how her Polish parents fled a Siberia forced labor camp under the rule of Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union. Having the resources to share that story and her message amid the high-dollar campaigns waged by her opponent will be key.
Tsernoglou, endorsed by the MDP’s progressive caucus, may be best known for buying popular voter list company Practical Political Consulting off Mark Grebner and Alan Fox a few years ago, but she got her start in politics by leading an effort to end Ingham County’s practice of selling shelter dogs and cats for research.
71st House District — A pair of competitive Eaton County primaries has Waverly School Board Vice President Angela Witwer, the president of Edge Partnerships, squaring off against progressive Beth Bowen, a training specialist at Dart Container. Former Bernie Sanders volunteer Dominic Natoli is also on the Democratic primary ballot in the race to succeed Rep. Tom Barrett.
On the Republican side, Wheatfield Golf Course owner Chuck Cascarilla and Eaton County Commissioner Christine Barnes are the favorites.
The fun fact here is that Cascarilla’s wife, Delta Township Trustee Andrea Cascarilla, nearly won the Democratic nomination for this seat in 2012.
Sen. Rick Jones is backing Barnes, who is seen as the more conservative option, while Cascarilla is a lifelong Delta Township resident who’s been involved in the community for years.
Clarisa Trevino, who owns the Royal Queens of Fashion sales website, and former MSU football strength coach Chris Stewart are also on the ballot on the Republican side.
93rd House District — For all intents and purposes, Graham Filler has been running for the Republican nomination here for years, according to sources on the ground in Clinton County, and it’s showing. The assistant attorney general has been working the hardest and the longest for this seat to replace term-limited Rep. Tom Leonard.
Former deputy treasurer Madhu Anderson has more state experience than Filler and could connect with professionals in Bath Township and around southern Clinton County. Depending on how deep her wallet goes, she could make a substantial impact.
Former county commissioner Anne Hill was leading in an internal poll shared with MIRS last month, but she lost her 2016 re-election bid by 151 votes.
(Kyle Melinn is news editor of the Capitol news service MIRS. He is at firstname.lastname@example.org.)