Vulnerable Dem incumbents look toward November with big money leads

Reps. Elissa Slotkin (left) and Haley Stevens (right) | Andrew Roth photos

WASHINGTON — Michigan’s most vulnerable members of the U.S. House are stockpiling cash in preparation for heated battles for reelection this fall.

In the meantime, Republicans vying for the right to take them on lag far behind in the money race as they wage contested battles for their party’s upcoming Aug. 4 primary — and as public health guidelines put a damper on in-person fundraising activities.

Susan J. Demas graphic

U.S. Reps. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) and Haley Stevens (D-Rochester Hills) — two freshmen who represent districts that President Donald Trump won in 2016 — have millions more in the bank than any of their would-be GOP challengers. 

Slotkin posted about $5 million as of July 15 and Stevens had about $4 million on hand, according to reports filed Thursday with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). 

Both are among the top House fundraisers so far in the 2020 cycle, with Slotkin raking in some $6 million and Stevens pulling in around $4 million.

Ex-GOP U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz, a public policy lecturer at the University of Michigan, said he was not surprised that the money is “flowing in” to the two women this election year. Donors, he said, tend to support candidates who they think will win and who they think will serve in the majority party, he said. 

Republican candidates, meanwhile, are far behind their would-be Democratic rivals as they move closer to the state’s primary.

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In Slotkin’s 8th District in Livingston, Ingham and Oakland counties, ex-Trump administration official and former TV anchor Paul Junge closed the books on July 15 with about $446,000 on hand.

Two other Republicans running for the GOP nod — U.S. Marine Corps veteran Alan Hoover and real estate manager Mike Detmer — were running near empty less than two weeks before the primary election. Each had less than $10,000 in the bank as of mid-July. 

A “pre-primary” report summarizing the most recent activity for another challenger, attorney Kristina Lyke, was not available on the FEC website as of Friday morning. Lyke’s second quarter report showed her with $13,000 in the bank at the end of June.

State Board of Education member Nikki Snyder had joined the race before being disqualified by the Michigan Board of State Canvassers in late May.

In the 11th District spanning Oakland and Wayne counties that’s represented by Stevens, attorney Eric Esshaki had about $213,000 on hand as of mid-July while entrepreneur and nonprofit leader Carmelita Greco had about $23,000 and Republican official Whitney Williams had $9,600. 

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A “pre-primary” report due Thursday for former U.S. Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-Milford) was not available on the FEC website. He had just over $43,000 at the end of June, according to a second-quarter report filed on July 15.

The Democratic incumbents’ fundraising pace, meanwhile, didn’t lag this spring, despite the pandemic. From April through June, Slotkin pulled in about $1.4 million and Stevens raised more than $700,000 — far more than their potential opponents. The figures reflect receipts from individuals, political action committees and other sources of revenue.

In the 8th District, Junge reported $262,000 in receipts in the second quarter of the year, including a $195,000 loan the candidate made to himself. Detmer raised about $15,000 during the same period, Lyke raised just under $9,000 and Hoover raised about $7,000.

In the 11th District, Esshaki raised about $124,000 in the second quarter, including a $50,000 loan to himself. Greco raised about $86,000; Williams raised about $37,000, including a $30,000 loan she made to herself; and Bentivolio raised about $57,000.

Both House races are drawing national attention. The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — the party campaign arms of the U.S. House — are targeting the seats.

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In 2016, Trump carried the 8th by about 6% and the 11th by 4%. Former President Barack Obama lost both districts in 2012 but won them both in 2008.

In 2018, Slotkin won with about 4% margin and Stevens won with about 6%.

The Republican candidates “will probably raise enough to carry out a good campaign,” Schwarz said. But he gives the edge to Slotkin and Stevens, noting that they “haven’t made any mistakes” during their short tenure in Congress. “If things carry forward as they are now, this will be a very, very difficult year for Republicans in districts that are known to be swing districts.”

3rd District

The Cook Political Report rates both districts as leaning Democratic. Only one other House race in the state is considered to be as competitive this year by the nonpartisan publication: the 3rd District anchored in Grand Rapids. 

That seat is held by retiring U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (L-Cascade Twp.), who left the Republican Party last year after facing a backlash for calling for Trump’s impeachment. He announced last week that he will retire at the end of his fifth term in January. 

“I love representing our community in Congress,” Amash tweeted last Thursday. “I always will. This is my choice, but I’m still going to miss it.”

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The Cook Report rates the seat as leaning Republican. 

In February, Democrat Nick Colvin dropped out of the race, leaving attorney Hillary Scholten uncontested in the primary. She posted $485,000 in receipts from April to June, out-earning Republican candidates in a district where Trump trounced Hillary Clinton in 2016.

So far this cycle, Scholten has raised more than $1 million, including an $11,200 loan to herself, and had about $572,000 in the bank as of mid-July — more than two leading Republicans, businessman Peter Meijer and state Rep. Lynn Afendoulis (R-Grand Rapids Twp.).  

Meijer, grandson of the founder of the eponymous grocery store chain, posted receipts of about $374,000 in the second quarter of 2020, including a $100,000 loan from the candidate himself. He has raised nearly $1.5 million this cycle, including a total of $475,000 in self-financing. He had about $407,000 in the bank as of July 15.

Afendoulis raised about $190,000 in the second quarter of 2020. Over the full cycle, she has raised $884,000 — including $256,000 in loans from the candidate. She reported $142,000 in the bank on July 15.

6th District

The only other competitive House race in the state in this year’s general elections is in the 6th District, according to the Cook Report.

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There, U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) retains a significant cash advantage against state Rep. Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo). The veteran congressman posted receipts of $383,000 in the second quarter of 2020 and total receipts of $2.1 million so far this cycle. He closed the books on July 15 with $1.4 million in the bank.

Hoadley earned $377,000 in the second quarter and has raised $1.4 million so far this cycle. He closed the mid-July report with $418,000 in the bank, far less than Upton. 

Democrat Jen Richardson, a teacher, had less than $8,000 on hand as of July 15. She raised $36,000 in the second quarter of the year and $53,000 so far.

The Cook report rates the race as “likely” Republican.

U.S. Senate

Freshman U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.) has been outraised by GOP businessman John James for the fourth-straight fundraising quarter. However, Peters maintains an advantage of cash on hand.

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For the second quarter, Peters took in $5.2 million, while James raised $6.4 million. But the incumbent has $11.6 million in the bank, while James has $9.2 million.

James lost his challenge to U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) in 2018. 

The Cook Report says the seat “leans” Democratic.

Allison Stevens
Allison Stevens is a reporter for States Newsroom's Washington, D.C. bureau.
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Susan J. Demas is a 19-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.