Inside the Early Elbowing for Michigan’s Open Senate Seat

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Photo illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

When Sen. Debbie Stabenow announced her retirement last week, Michigan Democrats were scrambling within hours to find a candidate who could win in a state that Joe Biden won by less than three points in 2020.

In the hours and days that followed, many prominent Democrats from the Great Lakes state fled. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Representative Dan Kildee (D-MI) and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan have all said they are not interested.

But according to three Democratic campaign strategists involved in early discussions, two Democrats have quickly emerged as favorites for the nomination: Representative Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) and Senator Mallory McMorrow.

“My feeling for Elissa was probably the boldest without announcing it, and I think she’s going to get a lot of attention in and out of state,” one of the Wolverine State strategists told The Daily Beast.

Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow will no longer run in 2024

While Slotkin is already considering a run, McMorrow has also taken calls from supporters to jump in, according to a Democratic source familiar with internal discussions. But according to another agent involved in the talks, she has not yet made a decision.

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McMorrow took advantage of a viral floor speech to spearhead a $2.35 million fundraiser for Senate campaigns that saw Democrats flip the chamber for the first time since 1984.

While Whitmer and Buttigieg would be instant favorites to take the Democratic nomination, neither is expected to change their minds, according to two sources in touch with their staff.

“It would be a step backwards for both of them in some ways, and I can’t imagine why a governor would run for the U.S. Senate,” another Democratic contributor told The Daily Beast.

Yet another Democratic strategist recalled a story from Whitmer’s inner circle where a top adviser said that Slotkin is “too smart to run for Congress.” The underhanded compliment was indeed taken as praise by some in the room, but also by others as a joke that the congressman and former CIA analyst would have trouble connecting with the electorate statewide.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Joceyln Benson have also been mentioned as possible candidates by campaign advisers, with the former Wolverine State agent saying Benson would be the more likely of the two to step in.

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Aside from Slotkin, Rep. Haley Stevens is considered the other rep most likely to enter the race – so much so that someone bought a pair Senate related domain pages under “Haley for Senate” on January 9.

On the GOP side, the picture is much murkier.

Democrats have plenty of options available to them, but most of the GOP chatter after Stabenow’s retirement immediately turned to Rep. John James, the newly sworn-in GOP congressman who lost Senate bids in both 2018 and 2020.

Can’t vote for Trump. Or Biden. Justin Amash, here I come!

Other names in the mix include former Representative Peter Meijer, one of 10 impeachment votes against Donald Trump following the January 6 uprising. Meijer subsequently lost his 2022 re-election bid in a primary challenge from a Trump-endorsed candidate. Tudor Dixon, DeVos’ family-backed GOP challenger who lost to Whitmer for governor in 2022, is also being considered a possibility.

“Democrats have a deep, deep bench in Michigan, and it’s full of stars,” said one of the Democratic advisers. “Republicans have the opposite problem, and the fact that the first name that came out of people’s mouths is John James proves that.”

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A wild card hanging over the race is former Republican Rep. who went independent and turned libertarian: Justin Amash. Amash left Congress in 2021 and transferred his seat to Meijer. But the conservative legislator, who personally despised Donald Trump and left the GOP because of the party’s harsh turn toward MAGA policies, could draw votes from both Democrats and Republicans if he chooses to run.

A source close to Amash told The Daily Beast on Thursday night that he was seriously watching the Senate race and considering how he would run. Michigan state laws make it difficult for anyone outside the two parties to win, so Amash could end up running for the Republican nomination. But he has also looked into running as an independent or perhaps only serving in the Senate as an independent if elected.

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