Michigan will be one of the marquee states in this midterm election, with a combination of high stakes and stark divides between the two major parties.
Three Democratic women elected in 2018 – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel, and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson – are all running for second terms. They have each played key roles in maintaining election standards against challenges by President Donald Trump following his narrow loss in the state in 2020. And Whitmer and Nessel have led the legal effort to keep a 1931 state law banning abortion from being reimposed after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
In November, Nessel and Benson will both face Republican nominees chosen in a party convention who are aligned with the party’s election-denying, Trump-aligned wing – Matt DePerno and Kristina Karamo, respectively. But the nominee to challenge Whitmer remains to be decided in Michigan’s Aug. 2 primary.
A WDIV/Detroit News survey found a close race, with 38% undecided, according to a mid-July poll. Four candidates received between 12% and 19% of the vote: Conservative commentator Tudor Dixon, businessman Kevin Rinke, accused Jan. 6 Capitol rioter Ryan Kelley and anti-lockdown activist Garrett Soldano. All are considered strong conservatives.
The race was jolted in mid-July when Rinke aired an ad accusing Dixon of taking “millions from the same billionaires who tried to illegally remove Trump from office,” referring to Michigan-based megadonor Betsy DeVos. DeVos served as Trump’s secretary of education, and has said she considered supporting invocation of the 25th Amendment to remove Trump as president after the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Dixon’s campaign demanded that Rinke’s campaign take down the ad, calling it “slanderous.” A subsequent poll by Emerson College found Dixon comfortably ahead in the GOP primary.
Meanwhile, a Democratic-backed group is running ads critical of Dixon’s position on police funding.
The general election for governor is expected to be competitive regardless of who wins the GOP nomination, given the difficult political environment facing Democrats and President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings. However, Whitmer is generally considered a slight favorite at this point.
Michigan also has six congressional district races to watch on primary day, several of which have been impacted by recent redistricting. Here’s a rundown.
This western Michigan district is represented by GOP Rep. Peter Meijer, scion of a supermarket family who enraged Trump and his supporters by voting to impeach the former president in his second impeachment trial in 2021.
He’s being challenged in the GOP primary by John Gibbs, who worked in Trump’s Department of Housing and Urban Development and who has raised debunked claims about the 2020 election and tweeted that Democrats are the party of “Islam.” Gibbs has only about one-tenth as much money in the bank as Meijer, but he’s hoping that base voters in the primary will prefer him. He has criticized Meijer for backing a gun safety bill that passed Congress with bipartisan support, which could energize pro-gun primary voters.
Hoping to secure what they view as a less electable GOP nominee in the general election, Democratic-aligned groups have been criticizing Gibbs in ways that might raise his appeal among primary voters.
If he can secure the nomination, Meijer would face a competitive race in November against 2020 Democratic nominee Hillary Scholten, whom he defeated 53%-47%. The GOP might have a harder time holding the seat if Gibbs wins, however. The Grand Rapids-based district was once the Republican heartland of the state, but it has moved towards the Democrats in recent years and backed Biden in 2020 by a 53%-45% margin.
Scholten reported more than $900,000 in the bank at the end of June, roughly the same as Meijer. Gibbs had just $145,415.
This historically Democratic district includes Flint and parts of Saginaw and Bay counties. Five-term Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee represents what is currently the state’s 5th congressional district, but which has been newly drawn into the 8th. Under its new lines, the district only supported Biden over Trump by a 50%-48% margin, making Kildee’s reelection campaign a highly competitive contest.
The two leading GOP candidates are former news anchor Paul Junge and former Grosse Pointe Shores council member Matthew Seely. Seely has been involved in anti-coronavirus-related protests and a pro-Trump boat parade.
Junge has reported more than $700,000 in the bank, while Seely has reported $463,000; Kildee has more than $3.1 million. A third GOP candidate, confusingly, is named Candice Miller; she is not the same person as the former Michigan Republican congresswoman and secretary of state despite having the same name.
Congressional District 10
This suburban Detroit district, which includes portions of Macomb and Oakland counties, is newly drawn and lacks an incumbent.
The front-runner in the Republican primary is John James, a businessman and Iraq War veteran who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in both 2018 and 2020. He has $2.4 million in the bank.
The Democratic field is more unsettled and comparatively underfunded. It includes Huwaida Arraf, a pro-Palestinian activist; former probate judge and prosecutor Carl Marlinga; former Macomb County health director Rhonda Powell; Warren City council member Angela Rogensues; and Sterling Heights council member and former state Rep. Henry Yanez.
James’ past statewide runs have raised his name identification among voters, and the district supported Trump by about 1 percentage point in 2020, suggesting he would be a slight favorite in November. But the general election should be competitive.
Congressional District 11
This district, based entirely in suburban Oakland County, is solidly Democratic. Two Democratic incumbents are battling to be the one to represent it: Reps. Haley Stevens and Andy Levin.
Stevens has about $1.8 million in the bank, while Levin has more than $1.1 million. Both have similar voting records, but a poll found Stevens leading Levin, 58%-31%, with Stevens bolstered by the support of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Two Republicans are running – investment manager and Army veteran Mark Ambrose and real estate agent Matthew Denotter – but they would be at a distinct disadvantage in November.
Congressional District 12
In this overwhelmingly Democratic district based in Detroit, Rep. Rashida Tlaib – the first Palestinian-American woman elected to the House and one of the members of the “squad” who belong to the ideological left of the House Democratic caucus – is getting primary competition.
The front-runner among Tlaib’s challengers is Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey, who has raised $145,000 to Tlaib’s $1.1 million. Also running are Lathrup Village Mayor Kelly Garrett and former state Rep. Shanelle Jackson. However, the split field of opponents could ease Tlaib’s path to renomination.
Congressional District 13
This is another overwhelmingly Democratic district based in Detroit. It was long represented by the late John Conyers, and now his successor, Brenda Lawrence, is retiring. Democrats have a massive field seeking to succeed Lawrence.
Some of the more prominent Democratic contenders include wealthy businessman and state Rep. Shri Thanedar; Conyers’ son John Conyers III; Detroit school board member and former state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo; state Sen. Adam Hollier, who’s been endorsed by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan; state civil rights commissioner Portia Roberson, who’s been endorsed by Lawrence; attorney Michael Griffie; and former Detroit council member Sharon McPhail.
Whoever wins the Democratic nomination will be a shoo-in in November.