LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan’s primary features a viable challenge to an incumbent congresswoman and campaigns for two U.S. House seats where a Republican and a former GOP member are retiring.
The election, which is being marked by a surge of mail-in absentee ballots during the coronavirus pandemic, also will shape races in November for a couple of potentially competitive congressional districts that Democrats flipped in the midterm.
The top races to watch Tuesday:
‘SQUAD’ MEMBER FACES TEST
Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib, part of a “squad” of first-term liberal women of color, narrowly topped a crowded 2018 primary field by fewer than 1,000 votes to ultimately win the 13th District, a Democratic-heavy seat that includes parts of Detroit. Now she faces a one-on-one rematch with her closest challenger then — City Council president Brenda Jones, who defeated Tlaib the same day two years ago to finish the term of John Conyers.
Tlaib has a huge financial advantage over Jones. But race and religion are also factors. More than half of the district’s residents are Black, like Jones. Tlaib is one of the first two female Muslim members of Congress.
The decisions by Reps. Justin Amash and Paul Mitchell to not seek re-election have led eight Republicans to run in the 3rd and 10th districts.
Amash, who has criticized President Donald Trump and supported his impeachment, left the GOP last year. The Republican-leaning seat he has held since 2011 stretches from the Grand Rapids region to the Battle Creek area.
Top contenders include Iraq War veteran Peter Meijer, whose grandfather helped build the Meijer chain of stores, and state Rep. Lynn Afendoulis, who formerly worked in corporate communications and journalism. They have loaned their campaigns hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Meijer, who works in urban redevelopment and did humanitarian aid-related work in Afghanistan, said he is frustrated with the “very failed” political system. “We need some generational change,” he said, saying he wants to “bring long-term reform that’ll put us on a better path for the next five, 15 and 50 years.”
Afendoulis said the district deserves an “engaged” representative again, and that is not how Amash sees the role. She argued she has the greatest depth of experience and questioned Meijer’s conservative bona fides, citing his work founding a pro-veteran political group that helped elect Democrats and not just Republicans.
Whoever emerges from the five-way primary will face Democrat Hillary Scholten, a lawyer. Democrats are targeting the district and 17-term Republican Rep. Fred Upton’s 6th District in southwestern Michigan, where state Rep. Jon Hoadley is expected to win the Democratic primary.
In the 10th District, three GOP candidates are campaigning to succeed Mitchell, who is leaving after two terms from the safe Republican seat that covers the Thumb region and much of Macomb County.
Business executive Lisa McClain has spent more than $1.4 million of her own money — more than $900,000 above the amounts raised by state Rep. Shane Hernandez and retired Brig. Gen. Doug Slocum, who led the Selfridge Air National Guard Base. All support Trump.
McClain has run ads touting her business credentials and status as a political outsider. Hernandez , who chairs the House budget committee and is endorsed by Mitchell, cites his conservative voting record. Slocum emphasizes his military leadership.
8TH, 11TH DISTRICTS
In 2018, Democrats Elissa Slotkin and Haley Stevens flipped what were GOP-held seats and seem positioned to hold them amid Republicans’ recruiting challenges and Trump’s struggles in the suburbs around Detroit.
In Slotkin’s 8th District, which stretches from Lansing to Oakland County, the GOP contenders include newcomer Paul Junge, who was an immigration official in the Trump administration and has given his campaign $528,000. That is four times what the other three first-time candidates have raised combined.
The 11th District in parts of Oakland and Wayne counties has a five-way GOP primary to see who goes against Stevens. The best-known candidate is former Rep. Kerry Bentivolio. He won the seat in 2012 when the incumbent submitted invalid nominating petitions, only to lose it two years later.
Eric Esshaki, a business attorney and former nurse, is among others running. None has held elective office.
Before the battle for control of the state House intensifies this fall — the GOP has a 58-51 edge — Republicans and Democrats must settle primary fights. The parties’ chances in swing districts can hinge on whether a quality candidate advances. Also, in many open seats, the next lawmaker will essentially be chosen Tuesday due to how districts are drawn.
Absentee voting is surging during the virus outbreak. A week before Election Day, about 600,000 more absentee ballots had been cast than at the same point in 2016. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson says results may be delayed. Clerks’ ability to handle the influx will be closely watched, particularly amid legislative debate over allowing them to start processing absentee ballots earlier in November.