It’s hard to give a blanket explanation for why Republicans have had such a hard time winning U.S. Senate seats in Michigan over the last 60 years, but they have.
Since 1959, Michigan has had eight U.S. senators. Six have been Democrats. Two have been Republicans. Zero have knocked off an incumbent Democratic U.S. senator since Dwight Eisenhower was president.
Michigan voters like their Democratic incumbents in the U.S. Senate. They don’t lose.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s decision not to seek a fifth term in the U.S. Senate creates one of those rare vacant seats. It may be the last one they get for a while.
U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, a Dem, is 64 and could run for reelection in 2026 and possibly again at age 76 in 2032. Let’s presume U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Lansing, wins the Senate seat at age 48 in 2024. She realistically could have the seat for two or three decades.
Obviously, nothing is cast in stone. Some dynamic Republican candidate could win in 2026 or 2030 or 2032. But history isn’t on their side.
The time for Republicans to win a U.S. Senate seat is now … and they don’t have the natural fit the Democrats have.
Slotkin, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist or state Sen. Mallory McMorrow all would be formidable candidates on the Democratic side. They would instantly appeal to the national coalitions they’d need to run a professional campaign.
The Republican side isn’t as clear. The R’s were swept in 2022, their field of statewide candidates exposed as being too aligned with Donald Trump’s conspiracies to appeal to a broader Michigan audience.
Deep-pocketed businessmen Kevin Rinke and Perry Johnson, who made losing bids for the GOP gubernatorial nomination last year, are talking about another run, but they come with heavy flaws. Rinke doesn’t excite anybody, and the eccentric “Quality Guru” Johnson seems more interested in promoting his personal brand than serving the public.
Once-GOP rising stars have moved on. Former Secretary of State Candice Miller likes being Macomb County’s public works director. Former Speaker Tom Leonard likes being a dad and making real money at a law firm. It’s a similar story for former Attorney General Mike Cox and former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley at the Small Business Association of Michigan.
The only elected Republican with a recent history of exciting grassroots Republicans and the center-right crowd is two-time U.S. Senate candidate John James, and he barely won a congressional seat last year, despite the national Democrats’ decision to ignore the race.
Leonard again suggested on Michael Patrick Shiels’ radio show the name of U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer.
His family’s chain of supermarkets gives him more name ID, personal wealth and access to funders than anybody else I can’t think of.
The rub on Meijer would be making it through a Republican primary against a far-right candidate like Ryan Kelley.
Meijer is a “maverick” who voted to impeach President Donald Trump and flew to Afghanistan to personally investigate Joe Biden’s critically received withdrawal. The product sells well with independents. It doesn’t work with the GOP base, as he found out in last August’s GOP primary, when he was beaten by a pro-Trump carpetbagger.
The name to watch may be U.S. Rep. Lisa McClain. As a former executive with the Hantz Group finance company, McClain has some personal money (not Meijer or Perry Johnson money, though) and has the potential to raise more.
The personable McClain appeals to the conservative base and the Trumpers while having some caché with the private sector. She doesn’t have the name ID of Meijer, but Irish political surnames do well in Michigan.
If her chief political strategist, Scott Greenlee, can pull off a win in the Michigan Republican Party chair’s race next month, she’s someone to watch.
The Republicans are infamous for having an unknown private sector executive show up, and I’d expect the same to happen next year.
But whoever emerges will be under pressure. The time for them to win is now.
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