LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A number of Republican challengers are running in primaries to take on Michigan Reps. Elissa Slotkin and Haley Stevens, whose victories two years ago flipped GOP-held seats and helped Democrats gain control of the U.S. House.
Whoever wins will face obstacles in November because both women have major fundraising edges, President Donald Trump has lost ground among suburban voters and challengers may struggle even more during the pandemic.
"There’s so much swirling right now between the coronavirus and the presidential race and protests. I think challenger candidates are going to have a hard time breaking through that clutter,” said David Dulio, a political science professor at Oakland University. “This is not just for these two races, but for congressional races and state-level races. I think incumbents are going to have a big advantage.”
A look at the races:
Slotkin’s district, which includes Ingham, Livingston and parts of Oakland County, was represented by Republicans for nearly 20 years before she beat incumbent Mike Bishop in 2018. Four Republicans are running.
Paul Junge, who leads big in fundraising after loaning or giving his campaign $528,000, has worn a few hats — being a deputy district attorney in California, a TV news anchor in Lansing and most recently an external affairs adviser for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Alan Hoover, a former Marine for 20 years, said virus restrictions hurt his fundraising but tensions over Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s orders have helped his campaign.
“It’s caused an awakening among people that are truly patriotic and conservative in nature, constitutionalist, to be more involved in what’s going on with the government and especially the elections, so now I have people reading my profile,” Hoover said. "This forced house arrest without due process on every single American citizen in the state of Michigan, people are furious and they’re doing their homework and I believe that’s helping me.”
Slotkin, a former CIA Middle East analyst, ran on and has been known as a middle-of-the-road Democrat, Dulio said, but Hoover said Slotkin has not fulfilled her campaign promise of putting people before party. Slotkin joined other Democrats in backing the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
Mike Detmer has published a “contract” with Michigan on his website outlining his campaign promises.
Detmer said if he is elected, he would use social media to increase transparency and communication with constituents by sharing every piece of legislation he expects to vote on.
"Right now what people really want is accessibility to their elected officials, they want action, they want results. That’s really the biggest thing that I’m getting from the voters is ‘what we want is somebody who will actually listen to us,’” Detmer said. “I’m a voter who decided that, rather than waiting for somebody to come along, to do the things that I’d like to see done as a voter.”
Also running is Kristina Lyke, an East Lansing attorney who has emphasized herself as a “fighter” who will stand up for Second Amendment rights and other conservative priorities.
Stevens' seat includes parts of Oakland and Wayne counties and is being sought by five Republicans, including former Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, who held it from 2013 to 2015 following the incumbent shockingly failing to submit enough signatures.
Despite having the benefit of name recognition, he is subject to the same difficulties in running a campaign as others in the race due to COVID-19. Bentivolio said he usually knocks on about 2,000 doors himself for a campaign, but this time in-person interactions are limited as some people are nervous about the virus.
Bentivolio is one of two Army veterans running, joined by Northville resident Frank Acosta. Other candidates are Whittney Williams, a first-generation immigrant from Taiwan who is running to "fight back against the radical left’s socialist agenda,” according to her website; and entrepreneur Carmelita Greco, who loaned her campaign $275,000.
Eric Esshaki, a business lawyer and former nurse, had raised the most money after loaning his campaign $100,000.
Anna Liz Nichols is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.