Opinion

With Stabenow retiring in 2024, who replaces Slotkin when ... not if ... she runs for U.S. Senate?

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If we could add a third certainty to life outside of death and taxes, it would be U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin running for the U.S. Senate.

Our third-term member of Congress has been burning up the phone lines to potential donors after U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow let it be known that she won’t be running for reelection in 2024.

Running for one of Michigan’s U.S. Senate seats is a roughly $50 million deal, and Slotkin didn’t become the state’s most prolific congressional fundraiser because she sits around waiting for something to happen to her.

She’s in, and she’s making that known behind the scenes.

The next domino to fall is in our Lansing-area 7th Congressional district. Slotkin can’t run for the Senate and the House, so this seat opens up in 2024.

The Republicans’ nominee last go-round, Tom Barrett, is highly likely to return. The retired Apache helicopter pilot has $30 million in name ID from his last run. He’s got experience raising big money. And he wouldn’t be running against a sitting member.

Barrett essentially cleared the field in 2022, and it’s hard to imagine he couldn’t do the same in 2024.

The Democratic side is less clear-cut. Here’s my list of probable candidates:

1. Former Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. The ambition, broad network and skillset are there. The pedigree is there. His Uncle Dennis is a former member of Congress. Hertel could raise Congress-level money. He’s not going to be outworked.

The question is one of timing. Hertel just took a full-time job as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s chief lobbyist. To turn on a dime and run for Congress with a family at home? It’d be a tough transition personally, but if he makes the decision to do it, he becomes the front-runner.

2. Sen. Sarah Anthony, of Lansing. Like Hertel, the ambition and skillset are there. Nobody wants to run against the socially engaging Sarah Anthony. She wins whatever she runs for. She’s sharp and progressive while being practical.

The question here is time, not timing. Anthony is learning a new, big gig as the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is labor intensive and puts large demands on your time if you’re doing it right. If anyone could balance doing this job and running for Congress, Anthony could do it. The question is if she’d want to.

3. Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum. The Clerk’s Office is not the final stop for the upwardly mobile Barb Byrum, but the popular wisdom was that Byrum would be a perfect fit to succeed Jocelyn Benson as the secretary of state in 2026. That said, remember Byrum was an active state representative before she was a clerk. Her mother, MSU Trustee Dianne Byrum, would have won the Lansing-area congressional seat if the voting rules of today for MSU students had been in place back in 2000.

4. Rep. Angela Witwer. The pragmatic deal-cutter would be fantastic for Democrats in a general election if she could make it through a primary. Witwer has won back-to-back-to-back in 50/50 Eaton County, which may be the first time a Democrat has pulled that off in, like, forever. Putting her one-on-one or even two-on-one against a progressive in East Lansing or Lansing? Probably not. Also, she’s chairing House Appropriations, which is probably harder than chairing Senate Approps because the number of members is double.

5. Lansing Mayor Andy Schor If Hertel runs, it’s hard to see Schor running against his close friend. If Hertel doesn’t run, Schor instantly shoots up the list. Schor has his critics as the mayor of Lansing, but he was a highly effective state representative who got things done whether his party was in the majority or the minority.

Others to keep an eye on: State Rep. Julie Brixie. She’s progressive. She raises money. She’s knows her stuff. She’s relentless.

Lansing City Councilmember Peter Spadafore … if Hertel and Schor each take a pass … .

Sen. Sam Singh. Not sure he wants it, but it’s hard to keep Sam off a list like this.

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