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Analysis: On the 2024 Michigan Senate Vacancy

Townhall Media

Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow announced this week that she will not seek re-election in 2024, which will add a potentially-competitive open seat to an upper chamber map that was already likely to be very challenging for Democrats.  This will remain a lean-to-likely blue seat, but open races can offer more promising opportunities for the opposition party to make a run at a gain, versus trying to knock off an incumbent.  With the notable exception of Donald Trump in 2016, Michigan has long been fool's gold for Republicans in federal statewide races.  That said, its two most recent Senate contests have been fairly close:

On the other hand, Michigan experienced something of a blue wave this past November, despite the national environment.  Gov. Whitmer won re-election handily, and no statewide Democrat won by less than nine percentage points.  The GOP fielded a weak slate of candidates, with some of the better potential recruits failing to qualify for the ballot.  Costly disarray.  The political landscape of 2024 is impossible to predict, but it's a safe bet that Michigan will be a fairly tough state for Republicans to win, but will still represent a plausible pick-up opportunity.  The GOP would need to thread a tricky needle to prevail.  This is the gist of it:

On the Democratic side, they've developed a pretty formidable bench in the state, from the governor on down.  One name being mentioned is Rep. Elissa Slotkin, who hung on to a divided district in November.  Another is Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who recently moved his 'home' state to Michigan.  Thanks to Buttigieg's reputation for being coldly calculating, many people saw the move as a concession that his statewide political ambitions in Indiana are a nonstarter, so he's shifted to friendlier political terrain.  Might Pete be hopping on one of the private jets he apparently enjoys so much to explore a Senate run in his new state?  He says no.  Sort of:

First of all, it's highly debatable how "fully focused" he's been on his current job, and everyone knows he wants to be president.  Secondly, saying that he's not seeking (present tense) "any other job" is not an airtight denial that he might be seeking it in the future.  This is a parsed, Buttigiegian statement.  On the Republican side, who knows what the state party and electorate will do -- and whether some of their 2022 failures will translate into better decision-making in the next cycle.  Sometimes people course-correct.  Sometimes they double down.  One figure who comes to mind is former Rep. Peter Meijer, who narrowly lost his primary to a Trump-backed 'MAGA' candidate (aided by heavy Democratic meddling) who went on to get crushed in the general, a Democratic flip.  He could be an impressive option, but he might have trouble with the base, given his vote for Trump's impeachment after January 6, 2021.  

Rep. John James just turned a blue district red in November, but just barely.  Would he want to vacate that seat to run statewide again, having lost Senate races by single digits in both 2018 and 2020?  Would he be willing to risk going 0-for-3 (albeit this time gunning for an open seat), at the expense of a House seat he fought hard to capture?  I've also seen Ronna McDaniel's name tossed around.  The embattled RNC Chairwoman is from the Great Lakes State, and if she ends up finding herself looking for an exit ramp from the RNC fight, this could be a natural place to test the waters for a run.  There will be other people sniffing around this race in both parties.  And it's ludicrously early.  But Stabenow's decision caused an initial ripple, so why not take a stab at a far-too-early assessment?  As I said at the outset, Democrats will be favored to retain this seat, but in just the right climate, with just the right candidate, Republicans could have a shot.  There will be a lot at stake in 2024.  Primary voters will need to choose wisely, up and down the ballot.


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