The three-term Lansing-area congresswoman won one of the nation’s most expensive midterm elections. Her overwhelming victory in what was thought to be a close race has deterred other prominent Democrats from opposing her for the Senate nomination, and no high-profile Republican has run.
Slotkin’s arrival has reassured Democrats that Michigan may be safe in a year when they are defending twice as many seats as Republicans. That’s excellent news for Democrats’ shaky Senate control, but it complicates their 2024 House takeover effort. Democrats need five seats to retake power, but Slotkin’s performance in one of the nation’s most competitive districts is unlikely to be repeated.
Democrats cheered U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin’s Senate bid.
“It is sort of a blessing and a curse,” said Michigan Democratic strategist Amy Chapman, Barack Obama’s 2008 state director. “Senate Democrats have gotten a good candidate but the curse is, obviously, what do you do about the House district?”
Slotkin seeks to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow. It’s happening elsewhere. Rep. Katie Porter’s entry into a crowded Democratic primary for Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s seat in California opened the contested 47th Congressional District.
Losing either seat may cost Democrats the majority and increase Republicans’ House advantage. It might potentially hinder Democrats’ House fundraising. The party’s top fundraiser, Slotkin raised $10 million for her 2022 candidacy. Only Porter outraised her among vulnerable Democrats last year.
Democrats, including Slotkin, say they won’t sacrifice districts for the Senate.
“I am really dedicated—to the point of obsession—in keeping this district because we can flip the House in 2024 with the seat being held,” Slotkin said in a recent interview.
Tom Barrett, who challenged Slotkin in 2022 and will run again in 2024, is Michigan Republicans’ top House contender. Barrett, a former state senator and Army veteran, lost to Slotkin last year.
Seven counties make up Michigan’s 7th District, redistricted before the 2022 midterms. It includes Republican Clinton and Shiawassee counties and Democratic Ingham, home to the state Capitol and Michigan State University. Farmers, legislators, and students are district voters.
After racing Slotkin last year, Barrett will benefit from name familiarity. In 2024, the House Republican campaign arm, the National Republican Campaign Committee, will go “all hands on deck” to win the district.
Michigan Democrats have yet to replace Slotkin. Curtis Hertel, a former state senator, and Barb Byrum, an Ingham County clerk, are considering running.
Hertel represented Lansing and East Lansing from 2015 until 2022 before term-limiting. He’s Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s legislative director. His father, brother, two uncles, and a U.S. House uncle were legislators.
As a local clerk, Byrum countered election falsehoods on social media.
With neither Byrum nor Hertel having the campaign apparatus or connections of a candidate like Barrett who has campaigned for Congress previously, Democrats are running out of time.
“The longer we don’t have a candidate, the less amount of time they have to raise money,” Byrum said in an interview. “We should have a candidate for this seat within a few months.”
Barrett represented more of the district as a state senator and representative. Hertel and Byrum would benefit from having represented parts of Ingham County, which has roughly half the district’s population and which Slotkin won by over 36 percentage points.
Slotkin will work with the nominee to retain the seat Democratic. At a Senate campaign kickoff in Lansing last month, she told residents her “first responsibility” was to “make sure this district stays in Democratic hands.”
“To be honest, I had always thought to myself, I’m not going to be here forever,” Slotkin remarked. How do you recruit the next generation of candidates? How do you train state legislators to run federally?”
Last year, Michigan Democrats benefited from top-ticket blowouts and a historic abortion rights ballot initiative. The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, which examines young voters, found that Michigan had the highest youth turnout at 37%.
Adrian Hemond, a Lansing-based Democratic strategist, said presidential favorability might affect a competitive seat with no strong incumbent this year. In 2020, President Joe Biden won the state, although three of Michigan’s 7th District’s four key counties voted decisively for then-President Donald Trump.
“In some parts of this district, the former president is popular,” Hemond remarked. “In other parts, he is poison and a turnout driver for Democrats.”