The Michigan Senate battle could determine control of the chamber in November

Elissa Slotkin had less than half an hour to take the announcement of her retirement into account that would reshape Michigan’s political landscape. The state’s senior senator and third-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, Debbie Stabenow, was about to reveal that she would retire in 2024.

Stabenow announced in January 2023 that she would not seek a fifth term in 2024. The news came as a shock to many Democrats, as she had not previously indicated that she would not seek re-election.

Rep. Slotkin, a Democratic congresswoman from Holly, quickly came together with her team to mobilize for a candidate for a U.S. Senate seat that Democrats did not expect would be difficult to defend in the closely divided House. A powerful fundraiser who had made quick gains in one of the country’s most controversial House districts, Slotkin emerged as the top choice of the Democratic Party establishment and began setting a torrid pace for fundraising.

It took longer for Republicans in Michigan to find their frontrunner. Beset by unrest between pro-Trump Republicans and the Republican state old guard, they ultimately found themselves lured former U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers out of retirement to compete for the unexpected opening. Former President Donald Trump’s support gave Rogers a clear chance to win his party’s primary without drowning in the intraparty conflict that has plagued Michigan’s Republican Party in recent years.

Both Slotkin and Rogers have opponents in the Aug. 6 primary, but they also have advantages that make a second showdown in November in a key swing state likely. With Trump and President Joe Biden set to battle it out for the state’s crucial fifteen electoral votes at the top of the ticket, the unexpected fight for Michigan’s open Senate seat could say a lot about what the winner will receive once he’s sworn in . a second term.

“This race is going down to the wire,” said former Michigan Republican Rep. Fred Upton. “These will be two heavyweights, in a positive sense. They really know the issues and will fight.”

Hill Harperan actor known for his roles in ‘CSI: NY’ and ‘The Good Doctor’, and businessman Nasser Beydoun will challenge Slotkin for the Democratic nomination. Slotkin has maintained a cash reserve advantage of more than $8 million over both at the end of March, along with the support of several prominent Democrats.

National Republicans had hoped Rogers would have an equally easy path to his party’s nomination. But also the campaigns of former U.S. Reps. Justin Amash and Peter Meijer, who ended their bids last week businessman Sandy Penslermade his task a little more complicated.

Meijer, who dropped out of the race on April 26, he served one term in Congress before being impeached by voters after voting to impeach Trump. He was one of ten Republicans in the House of Representatives who voted to impeach Trump after January 6, 2021.

He had took part in the race in November 2023.

Meijer is joined by former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, Michigan State Board of Education member Nikki Snyder and consulting firm owner J.D. Wilson as fellow Republicans who have withdrawn from the race.

Mike Rogers joins Donald Trump during a campaign stop in Michigan

Rogers’ main advantage is Trump’s support, which came in February and was opposed by some hardline Republicans because of Rogers’ criticism of Trump in the past. Rogers took the stage with Trump during a campaign event in Michigan On Wednesday, he further joined a former president he criticized after the Trump administration tried to cast doubt on the results of the 2020 election when he compared their actions to “Third World dictatorships.”

Trump said Wednesday that Rogers “will be a fighter in the United States Senate, and more importantly, he will simply be a winner.”

Trump’s support has proven decisive in Michigan’s Republican nominations of late, but questions remain about whether it will hurt or help the general election.

It’s a red line for voters like Tom Patton, a longtime Lansing resident who has been represented in Congress by both Rogers and Slotkin and even volunteered for Rogers’ first Senate campaign.

“I really liked Mike Rogers then and in some ways I still do. He is a serious person and has great references. But his support for Trump has completely turned me off,” said Patton, who voted for Nikki Haley in February. primary. “You can’t be for someone like Trump who doesn’t accept the outcome of a fair election.”

The approval hasn’t helped Rogers’ fundraising either. In the first quarter of 2024, he raised just over $1 million – just a quarter of Slotkin’s haul during the same period.

‘We are going to run a better campaign. We don’t have to match dollar to dollar,” Rogers said. “All we need to do is have enough money to make sure people understand the differences.”

The battle for the Senate in Michigan could mirror the presidential campaign

The race is expected to take on similar dimensions to the presidential campaign, with Slotkin advocating for reproductive rights and Rogers criticizing Mr. Biden on border security and inflation. It could also include a strong bipartisan element on the war in the Middle East, with Rogers drawing on his foreign policy credentials and looking for ways to criticize Slotkin and Mr. Biden on an issue that Democrats divide.

Wayne County, which includes Detroit and has the largest Democratic voting base in the state, has become the epicenter of opposition to Biden’s handling of the war between Israel and Hamas, and some have said they would sit out the election.

Slotkin, who is Jewish and has extensive foreign policy experience as a former CIA analyst and Defense Department official, is sometimes criticized for not being tougher on Israel.

During a campaign stop in Lansing in April, a pro-Palestinian group held its ground urged Slotkin to call for a ceasefire.

“There have been few issues that have kept me awake more than this issue. There are few issues more controversial in my own district, in my own state,” Slotkin said. “But the job of a leader is to step back from how they personally feel and do what is best for the people they represent.”

Support from Arab Americans could be crucial to Slotkin’s chances in November, but her relationship with at least one of that community’s leaders remains problematic. Shortly before announcing her Senate campaign in early 2023, Slotkin met with Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud, the top elected official in one of the country’s few Muslim-majority cities. The conversation soured when Hammoud took umbrage at the implication that the community would not support Slotkin because of her Jewish heritage, which has not been a deterrent to other Jewish candidates in the past.

Slotkin’s campaign declined to comment on the exchange, but the two have not spoken since.

Slotkin voted earlier this month for a package that sent more aid to Israel, but said in an interview that Israel should allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza and explain its military strategy going forward.

“If that’s not the case, I’m willing to have a conversation about putting conditions on offensive aid, not defensive aid,” she said.

It seems unlikely that opposition to Slotkin in the community will translate into support for Rogers. He has remained staunchly pro-Israel, saying the country is justified in its actions in Gaza because “they have the right to defend themselves and they have the right to go and get those hostages.”

Despite unrest within the Democratic base, the party has not lost a Senate race since 1994 and exceeded expectations in recent Michigan elections.

In 2022, the Democrats won complete control of Michigan’s state government for the first time in decades, partly due to a ballot initiative that enshrined abortion rights in the state constitution. Slotkin says abortion rights are still a winning issue in what could be the country’s ultimate swing state.

“What we need now in 2024 is at least a 10-year plan to win back federal abortion rights,” she said at an April 24 campaign event. ‘I’m so done waiting for the next shoe to drop. And part of the reason I want to be your next senator is because we need a new generation to think about our plans, our strategy.”

Rogers rejects the idea that abortion rights should still be voted on in Michigan. He said he would not vote for a national abortion ban if it came up during his time in the Senate, although he did vote for a 20-week abortion ban in the House of Representatives.

“I am a states rights man. I am not going back to Washington DC to undo what the people of Michigan decided to do,” Rogers said.

Republicans welcome Rogers as a moderate, sensible voice who has a legitimate chance to seize the unexpected opportunity that presented itself with Stabenow’s retirement, in a state where they haven’t won much lately. Democrats, meanwhile, believe Slotkin could emerge as a leading voice for the next generation of party leaders.

That makes for an intriguing matchup that no one saw coming.

“The Senate is at stake,” said Jason Roe, a Republican strategist in Michigan. “And Rogers and Slotkin could be a titanic battle.”