LANSING, Mich. (AP) — For Democrats hoping to seize back the U.S. House amid a purported “blue wave” of liberal enthusiasm against President Donald Trump, Michigan could deliver a key victory or two — but it won’t come easily.
Two years ago, the battleground state went for Trump, leaving shell-shocked Democrats scrambling to rework their strategy in the Midwest. This November will be the first test for them to prove their messaging still resonates in Rust Belt territory.
To retake the House, the minority party must flip 24 Republican seats. Most of the competitive districts are GOP-held, and dozens of Republican incumbents are retiring. The Senate, which only has a two-seat GOP majority, is less promising for Democrats due to the raft of endangered Democrats in Trump territory.
Republicans have on their side the surprise gift of an empty Supreme Court seat to invigorate their base, the fact that Democrats are historically worse at voter turnout in midterm elections and the GOP-drawn congressional district boundaries that effectively shrink the might of Democratic strongholds.
Here are races to watch in Michigan heading into the Aug. 7 primary:
GOP Rep. David Trott of Birmingham is stepping down, making the 11th one of the competitive open seats. The district in the northwest Detroit suburbs is one of the country’s most affluent and educated, and is getting more racially and ethnically diverse. Democrats are targeting many seats in that profile because they believe there’s an enthusiasm gap in those areas for Trump, who barely won the 11th in 2016.
“If the Democrats are going to take back the House, that’s the type of seat they’ll win across nation,” said GOP strategist Dennis Darnoi.
The race has 11 candidates. One GOP candidate getting attention is businesswoman and 2016 Trump Michigan campaign co-chair Lena Epstein, with a message of unapologetic conservatism and loyalty to the president. Former state Rep. Rocky Raczkowski and former U.S. Rep. Kerry Bentivolio of Milford are running on their political experience.
The Democrats include former U.S. Auto Task Force chief of staff Haley Stevens, one of many from former President Barack Obama’s administration running for Congress. Another is Obama Department of Homeland Security official Fayrouz Saad. She hopes to become the first Muslim congresswoman. Suneel Gupta, an entrepreneur and White House aide to former President Bill Clinton, is also running, as is state Rep. Tim Greimel of Auburn Hills, the only candidate with legislative experience.
Democrats have mostly hit the GOP on health care and economic issues such as tariffs — a top concern for wealthy moderates and independents nervous about a potential trade war’s impact. That’s a sound strategy, Darnoi said, because he isn’t quite sure a blue wave is guaranteed.
“Here in Michigan I don’t see an angry pitchfork-waving contingency ready to go in and kick out the bad guys,” he said.
This district was redrawn to favor Republicans. It sprawls from Detroit’s suburbs to mid-Michigan’s Ingham County — with suburban to rural to urban demographics. It went for Trump two years ago but holds enough young, diverse voters and educated moderates to make it a target for Democrats.
Incumbent Rep. Mike Bishop of Rochester will likely get the GOP nomination, while the Democratic front-runner is Elissa Slotkin, a defense and intelligence alum from Obama’s and George W. Bush’s administrations.
“This district is not cut out for a Democrat,” said Democratic political consultant Joe DiSano. “That’s why Slotkin’s ability to reach across the aisle in the general election by using her military background is absolutely critical.”
Slotkin is railing against Bishop on past votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act. In addition, she’s outraised him despite his incumbency.
But Darnoi, the GOP consultant, thinks Bishop is popular enough back home to hold onto his seat.
This mostly Detroit district is as blue as it gets, and that isn’t going to change since no Republican is running. But the 13th fell into upheaval last year when Democratic Rep. John Conyers resigned after he was accused of groping and sexually harassing women. His defeat was a milestone for the #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct, as he was the first politician on Capitol Hill to step down from it and the longest-serving member of Congress.
His successor could make history in other ways. Former state Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Detroit is also running to be the first Muslim female House member and, said DiSano, “doesn’t shy away from it.”
“Rashida Tlaib is the candidate who’s running the most fire-breathing of the campaigns,” the Democratic strategist said.
Tlaib faces Brenda Jones, the Detroit City Council president who is the favorite of the Democratic establishment and organized labor. Other contenders include Westland mayor Bill Wild, the race’s only white candidate and non-Detroiter, who will probably draw more support in the affluent western Wayne County area, and state Sen. Ian Conyers, the great-nephew of John Conyers.
The Aug. 7 primary will likely determine that seat. However, there are actually two elections: a special election to replace Conyers for the remainder of his term after the November election and a regular one for the two-year term that starts in January. Some candidates are running in both primaries.
Retiring Democratic Rep. Sander Levin of Royal Oak leaves another open seat. Though it’s unlikely the Metro Detroit seat will flip parties, the race presents another case where a longstanding House Democrat is relinquishing his job.
The transfer of power may stay in the family. His son, lawyer and labor organizer Andy Levin of Bloomfield Township, is running to replace him. Other Democrats running are former state Rep. Ellen Lipton and lawyer Martin Brook.
The winner will face Republican and small business owner Candius Stearns, who is unopposed in the primary.