As the clock ticks down to Election Day, four congressional races in Michigan could be at the crux of determining who controls the U.S. House.
The fierce and often high-spending battles are taking place in Michigan’s newly drawn 3rd, 7th, 8th and 10th congressional districts.
While Democrats currently have a slim majority, Republicans have been favored to flip the House on Nov. 8.
J. Miles Coleman, associate editor of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics’ Sabato’s Crystal Ball, noted that whichever party is in control of the White House has historically lost seats in midterm elections. That’s happened in the last four midterms: 2018, 2014, 2010 and 2006.
But Coleman said several races in Michigan remain competitive.
Coleman said there are major factors shaping congressional races in the state: Newly drawn district lines by the independent redistricting commission that voters approved in 2018; issues with the economy and inflation plaguing voters’ minds and wallets; and Proposal 3 seeking to codify the right to abortion in Michigan’s Constitution after the U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned Roe v. Wade.
In September, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) led the rollout of the Republicans’ Commitment to America that they said will guide the next term if they regain the majority. The plan proposes reducing government spending, though it declines to say where lawmakers would cut federal funding, boosting domestic energy production, immigration measures and more.
McCarthy told Punchbowl News last week that he’s likely to leverage the debt limit for reductions in federal spending, but he would not say if Social Security and Medicare would be included.
“You can’t just continue down the path to keep spending and adding to the debt,” he said. “And if people want to make a debt ceiling [for a longer period of time], just like anything else, there comes a point in time where, okay, we’ll provide you more money, but you got to change your current behavior. We’re not just going to keep lifting your credit card limit, right? And we should seriously sit together and [figure out] where can we eliminate some waste? Where can we make the economy grow stronger?”
If Democrats expand their control of Congress, President Joe Biden has promised that codifying Roe v. Wade will top his agenda next year. McCarthy said during an interview with CNN this summer that he would support a nationwide 15-week ban on abortion.
Michigan has 13 congressional districts, having lost one seat following the 2020 Census. Traditionally, there have only been two or three districts that have been competitive in elections — with the rest leaning heavily toward either Republican or Democratic candidates — even when Michigan had more seats.
“[Michigan’s] definitely one of the key states in the House this year,” Coleman said. “This new independent redistricting commission … it’s given us a lot of competitive districts.”
While control of the U.S. Senate — which is currently divided 50-50 — also is up for grabs on Nov. 8, Michigan does not have a contest this year.
Coleman noted the top-of-the-ticket race, the face-off between Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Republican challenger Tudor Dixon, could help tip who wins in some of the state’s competitive congressional districts.
“These elections don’t happen in a vacuum,” Coleman said. “To some degree, a rising tide lifts all boats.”
Michigan 3rd — Gibbs vs. Scholten
Looking first to West Michigan, one of the most competitive races in the state is taking place between Republican John Gibbs and Democrat Hillary Scholten.
The 3rd Congressional District is open as Gibbs defeated U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids) in the August GOP primary after attacking him for voting last year to impeach former President Donald Trump for inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. Scholten also ran in 2020 and lost to Meijer.
After being revamped by the independent redistricting commission, the district went from favoring Republicans to being a toss-up. The area includes the Grand Rapids metro area, the Lake Michigan coastline and segments of Muskegon and Ottawa.
Gibbs previously served in Trump’s administration as an official in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Trump tapped Gibbs to head the Office of Personnel Management, but Gibbs was never confirmed. Gibbs is also a conservative commentator who is backed by the former president.
Gibbs has often called into question the results of the 2020 election that Trump lost to President Joe Biden, particularly with a focus on the merits of absentee ballots.
“What I want to do, two weeks from now, is win [the primary] by a large enough margin that we beat the cheating,” Gibbs said earlier this summer.
Gibbs pulled out a narrow win with a roughly 3.5% margin over Meijer, who did not contest the results.
Gibbs believes that the best way to deal with the economy and rising inflation is to “return to the American energy independence pioneered by President Trump.” On the environment, Gibbs believes that focus should be placed on the “consolidation of ownership of American farmland,” food supply issues, immigration and urban sprawl.
As for health care, he does not believe in medical mandates. He opposes abortion and won the endorsement from Right to Life of Michigan. On Gibbs’ campaign site, he lists “protecting innocent unborn lives” as one of his top priority issues.
“The right to act as one chooses does not extend to the taking of another’s innocent life. We must protect the lives of unborn human beings as a top priority. One only knows which future CEO, President, or Pope, may have been born by a mother who contemplated abortion but was compassionately deterred by laws which protect life,” the site reads.
The Republican previously ran an anti-feminist think tank and criticized women in the workplace and having the right to vote. He has tried to distance himself from those previous stances in his campaign, with a spokesperson saying it “was nothing more than a college kid being over the top.”
Scholten is an immigration attorney from Grand Rapids who would be the first woman elected to represent the seat. She said Gibbs’ comments were indicative of today’s GOP and said, “The assault on women’s rights is in full force.”
The Democrat believes that to deal with the economy, priority should be placed on: lowering costs of prescription drugs, investing in renewable energy, investing in semiconductor manufacturing, investing in infrastructure, and providing fair wages.
When it comes to Social Security and Medicare, she believes in fighting against proposals to raise the retirement age or cutting or privatizing the social safety net.
Scholten backs abortion rights and has been endorsed by the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. On her website, she said “protecting reproductive health care choices is fundamentally a matter of privacy and freedom from government control. It is a kitchen table issue, a worker’s rights issue, a child welfare issue, and a healthcare worker protection issue.”
Michigan 7th — Slotkin vs. Barrett
This toss-up district is also the country’s most expensive congressional race. Super PACs, national party committees and other outside spending groups have spent about $17 million opposing and supporting the two candidates in the new 7th District.
U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Lansing) has outraised her opponent, state Rep. Tom Barrett (R-Charlotte). Slotkin has raised $1.9 million this past quarter and $9 million total this election while Barrett has raised $670,195 in the last fundraising quarter of 2022, having raised $2 million in total.
The two candidates are vying for the seat that encompasses Ingham, Livingston, Shiawassee, Clinton, Eaton County and segments of Oakland and Genesee counties.
Barrett’s state Senate district includes a lot of the newly drawn 7th District. Slotkin’s current 8th District includes Ingham, Oakland and Livingston counties. Slotkin moved to Lansing to run for this seat, with redistricting drawing her family farm in Holly into a new district.
Slotkin first won the current 8th District in 2018 against incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop. Before heading to Congress, she worked as a Middle East analyst for the CIA and in the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations in various national security positions.
Slotkin prioritizes, according to her campaign website, reforming the Affordable Care Act, lowering prescription drug prices and defending Social Security and Medicare. Increased investment in worker training programs and investing in infrastructure are also priorities for the economy.
In a debate earlier this month, Slotkin said that she would tentatively say yes to tax credits for electric vehicles if it facilitated job creation in Michigan. She also said she would not support raising the retirement age. Slotkin also said she supports federally codifying same-sex marriage and federally legalizing marijuana. She also said she would support the death penalty in certain circumstances.
Slotkin supports abortion rights and has been endorsed by the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
“I support the 50-year precedent set in Roe v. Wade, giving women the right to privacy in their own personal health decisions, including whether to end a pregnancy, up to the point of viability,” Slotkin said in a press release. “If a woman’s health is at risk beyond that, a woman and her doctor — not the federal government— should make the decision about whether to terminate a pregnancy.”
Slotkin spokesperson Sean Casey wrote in a statement to the Advance that along with showing candidates she is working on behalf of issues they care most about, she is especially targeting young voters at Michigan State University, which rests in the new district.
“The campaign is going to make that case to any Michigander — Democrat or Republican, left or right — who’s tired of partisan politics and ready to elect a hard worker, not an ideologue,” Casey said. “We’re not taking any votes for granted, and we’re not counting anyone out.”
Barrett, who didn’t respond to a request for comment, is a veteran who chairs the Michigan Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Barrett first was elected to the Michigan House in 2014 when he beat incumbent Democratic Rep. Theresa Abed. He successfully defended his position in the Michigan House in 2016 against Abed. He was elected to the state Senate in 2018 over the late Kelly Rossman-McKinney, founder of the bipartisan Truscott-Rossman PR firm in Lansing.
Barrett has questioned the 2020 election results. He was one of 11 state senators who signed onto a 2021 letter urging members of Congress to examine baseless claims of voter fraud.
A leaked version of the letter asked Congress to delay the Jan. 6, 2021, election certification “in the name of national unity” ahead of the Electoral College’s vote to certify Biden’s win, but that was not sent.
Barrett, according to his campaign website, believes in dealing with issues around the economy and inflation by cutting taxes or fighting against any potential tax increases.
He is against abortion and has Right to Life of Michigan’s endorsement. Barrett this year sent out fundraising flyers that said he was “100% Pro-Life – No Exceptions.” He also previously joined Republicans in the state Legislature to reinstate Michigan’s 1931 law banning abortion, which was unsuccessful.
However, in August, Barrett took down a section of his website that detailed his anti-abortion stance. As reported by the Detroit News, Barrett said he was unaware of the change to his website, but said it was likely made to focus on “the issues that were most salient right now.”
In a debate earlier this month, Barrett said he would not support a raise in the retirement age and would not support tax credits for electric vehicles. In the same debate, Barrett also said he would want to fire recently hired IRS agents and in turn put the funds toward border security.
He also said he is in favor of decriminalizing marijuana and is against the death penalty. Barrett also announced in the debate that he would not support codifying same-sed marriage in federal law. He voted to ban same-sex marriage in MIchigan in 2004.
He is also against Proposal 2, which would expand voting rights in the Michigan Constitution.
Michigan 8th — Junge vs. Kildee
This district is a battle between Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Flint) and Republican challenger Paul Junge.
The current 5th Congressional District Kildee represents includes Flint, Bay City and Saginaw with some northern territory of Lake Huron up to Oscoda. After redistricting, the new 8th District erases some of the northern segments and replaces them with Midland and areas of rural Saginaw County.
The redistricting shifts made it a more competitive district. The cities encompassed within the district — Flint, Saginaw, and Bay City — continue to lean Democratic but suburban segments of Bay City, Genesee and Saginaw counties have grown increasingly Republican.
Kildee has served five terms in Congress after winning the current 5th District seat after his uncle, former U.S. Rep. Dale Kildee, retired in 2012. In Congress, Kildee currently serves as chief deputy whip for House Democrats and is a member of the Ways and Means, Budget and the Science, Space and Technology committees.
Kildee, according to his campaign website, prioritizes lowering gas prices, combating inflation and fixing supply chains. He is also focused on lowering prices for prescription drugs and making health care more affordable. Kildee also supports expanding access to retirement savings for workers.
Kildee told the Advance that in speaking about these issues with voters, the “messages transcend what normally would be considered political differences.”
“There’s a lot of common ground,” Kildee said. “And the focus is on what a family is talking about sitting around their own kitchen table. Whether that kitchen table is in Flint, Saginaw, Bay City or Midland, it’s basically the same conversation.”
He supports abortion rights and has been endorsed by the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
“This is about an individual having the right to make decisions about their own body. It’s a freedom that women have had in this country for almost 50 years. And I believe that we should trust women to make those very difficult choices themselves,” Kildee said at a debate earlier this month.
Junge, who didn’t respond to a request for comment, is from Fenton and formerly worked under the Trump administration in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Junge has also been a prosecutor, TV news anchor and worked with his family’s maintenance business. This is his second attempt to run for a congressional seat, unsuccessfully challenging U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin in 2020 in the current 8th District.
The Republican is a proponent of parental rights to choose in education and Second Amendment rights, according to his campaign website. He is also pushing for more border security and supports trying to look for ways to lower prescription drug prices and out-of-pocket expenses in health care.
He is against abortion and has been endorsed by Right to Life of Michigan. Junge told the Detroit News in August that he supports the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and he would not seek a federal ban on abortions.
During a debate at Saginaw Valley State University, Junge said he has “strong feelings” on abortion.
“I support life. And I’m also very pleased that the voters of the state of Michigan will decide that issue and it’s important to point out that it will not be something that’s decided in Congress,” said Junge.
There is legislation for a national 15-week abortion ban. Junge did not return a request for comment if he supports it.
During his last campaign, Junge also talked about his opposition to abortion rights.
“I am pro-life. I support life at all times,” Junge said during a February 2020 Livingston County Republicans debate when he was running in the former 8th District and lost to Slotkin. “If I’m a federal legislator, I will support life.”
Michigan 10th — James vs. Marlinga
The last swing seat race in Michigan is the new 10th Congressional District battle between Republican John James and Democrat Carl Marlinga.
The 10th District is open and includes Warren, Sterling Heights, Eastpointe, St. Clair Shores and some southern parts of Macomb County‚ many parts once a part of the district represented now by Democratic U.S. Rep. Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.). Levin lost the Democratic primary in the new 11th District to U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Waterford Twp.).
The newly drawn 10th District also includes Rochester and Rochester Hills in Oakland County. The independent redistricting commission also drew in more northern areas that have been typically Republican, areas that are currently represented by the U.S. Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Romeo) who is now running in the 9th Congressional District.
The race is competitive despite a slight Republican tilt.
James is a veteran of the U.S. Army and president of a supply chain management company his father founded, James Group. He also serves as the CEO of a subsidiary of the company, Renaissance Global Logistics. He is from Farmington Hills and does not currently live in the 10th Congressional District, but has said he plans to move into it.
This is not James’ first attempt at running for a spot to represent Michigan in Washington. He unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate against Democratic incumbents U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters in 2018 and 2020, respectively. James is backed by Trump.
James has publicly doubted the integrity of Michigan’s election system and called for an investigation into the election results after his 2020 loss to Peters. He had even prematurely declared victory, with former campaign strategist Stu Sandler writing in a since-deleted tweet that James had become Michigan’s first Black senator.
This year, James has run on lowering gas prices and inflation as his top priorities. During a debate this month, he touted his “real-world experience” in the business sector.
“I have a unique set of skills that I develop by working with people across the political spectrum and across racial, ethnic, gender divides,” he said.
When asked about abortion in the debate, James said he would vote “to save the most number of lives both before and after birth.”
James’ campaign has previously described him as “100% pro-life.” During a 2018 campaign event in Lansing, James compared abortion to genocide.
“They want to do away with our children. Fifty million dead since Roe v. Wade,” he said. “That’s unacceptable. I have to recount, not to anybody in this room or anybody in Washington, but with the Lord. I want to hear seven words: Well done my good and faithful servant. Standing by and letting this genocide continue stands in the way of that happening.”
Marlinga is a former Macomb County judge and prosecutor. He has also previously attempted to run for Congress in 2002, but lost to Republican U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, who is now the Macomb County public works commissioner and advises the James campaign.
Marlinga is focused on creating jobs in the clean energy and advanced vehicles industries, supports abortion rights, and hopes to help the economy by prioritizing health care, clean drinking water, childcare and strengthening transportation systems.
At the debate this month, he said that he has been clear about his platform but James “never has the courage to identify what he’s going to do about the problem.”
Marlinga also said he was “100% pro-choice.” He previously has said the pre-Roe era was an “awful” situation for women in terms of “the grief, the anxiety, the travels, the shame, the possibility of criminal prosecution.”
“I believe that government has no business interfering with a woman’s health care choices, including any choice that she may make regarding abortion. Therefore, I pledge to codify the protections of Roe into federal law to provide again the protections and rights which the Supreme Court stripped away,” Marlinga’s campaign website reads.
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