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Detroit News: Slotkin preps run for Lansing district shaping up as Michigan’s most competitive

September 14, 2021

By Melissa Nann Burke

Washington — With the midterm elections a little more than 12 months away, a frontline Democratic congresswoman is preparing for her next campaign battle and a bit of a leap into the unknown. 

Two-term U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a centrist from Holly, is getting ready to run in what is shaping up to be Michigan’s most competitive U.S. House district — the area surrounding Lansing — even while the district doesn’t yet officially exist and its contours remain fluid. 

This is the challenge of running for reelection in a redistricting year, as a new bipartisan commission redraws political maps in a battleground state that’s losing a congressional seat. 

Slotkin currently represents a district that former President Donald Trump carried last year, making her one of national Republicans’ top targets in 2022.

Her seat is viewed among the most vulnerable in the country. In an off-election year, several conservative or GOP-aligned groups are spending on attack ads against her — about $1.4 million in broadcast and cable ads by her campaign’s count.

For Slotkin, it’s making her feel like the next election is a lot sooner than it is. 

“It has definitely made clear that they’re going to target me,” she said in an interview this week. “I can’t sit idly by, even though I’ve now been elected twice. I believe you run as the underdog or you run unopposed.”

While the redistricting process in Michigan is ongoing, Slotkin is setting her sights on the Lansing-based district sketched out in draft congressional maps, even though she doesn’t live in it. She intends on moving to the Lansing area from her family home in northern Oakland County and has already been looking at neighborhoods there. 

“A Lansing-based district makes the most sense for Slotkin to run in,” said Kyle Kondik, who studies the House for the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “She would be the most natural sitting incumbent for it, and she’d have a fighting chance to hold it in what might be a difficult year for Democrats.” 

It remains to be seen if the new territory will be easier sledding than her two victories in Michigan’s 8th District, where she flipped a GOP seat in 2018.

The website FiveThirtyEight rates the new district as “highly competitive,” with a slightly less Republican lean (R+4) than the old map (R+6), depending on where the final lines end up. 

“The odds are stacked against us. No matter what the final shape of the district is, it will be either similarly as difficult or maybe an inch more difficult because it’s a different type of voter,” said Slotkin, a former top defense official in the Obama administration. 

“The way I go into these elections, coming from the Defense Department, is you prepare as much runway as possible.” 

Already a top fundraiser in the delegation, Slotkin is amassing a war chest for the anticipated onslaught. She’ll report to the Federal Election Commission on Friday a third-quarter haul of $957,000, with $3.76 million in the bank. She also led her Michigan colleagues in fundraising for the first two quarters of the year.

Her race in 2020 was the second-most expensive U.S. House contest statewide, with Slotkin accruing the biggest fundraising haul of any congressional candidate, garnering more than $9.1 million during the cycle, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. She defeated Republican Paul Junge, who raised $2.1 million, by 3.6 percentage points.

Slotkin said she already has five or six campaign staff, and they’re busy drilling down on the new areas where Slotkin will likely need to hustle to introduce herself to voters. They’re crafting what Slotkin calls her District Day Planning, or D-Day, for the date when she will finally know the contours of the new district and can start campaigning in earnest. 

“Luckily, I have recent experience since, in 2017, no one knew my name in the state, and I had to kind of start from scratch getting to know people,” she said.  

Slotkin, 45, is a former Central Intelligence Agency officer who served three tours in Iraq and went on to serve in intelligence and defense posts during the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. She grew up in Oakland County, moving back to her family’s farm in Holly in 2017 and running for office.

Slotkin said she doesn’t love the idea of leaving the Holly farm but said it makes sense to run in the Lansing-based district that will likely encompass two of the 2 ¼ counties she already represents — Ingham and Livingston. 

“It just seemed natural,” she said. “I have a strong community in Lansing and staff there. And so it seems obvious.” 

Lansing is where her congressional and campaign offices are located and where the bulk of her district residents live. It’s also a Democratic stronghold, though the draft district would also take in several more Republican counties, including Eaton and parts of Clinton, Ionia and Shiawassee counties or, in another draft map, Barry County.  

“This is a district that is certainly attractive to her. A significant portion of it she already represents,” said Dave Dulio, a political scientist at Oakland University. “It’s not like she’s moving across the state to jump into a brand-new district.” 

But it’s also a seat that Republicans will deem winnable with the right candidate, Dulio noted, and that would have to be someone who could compete with Slotkin’s formidable fundraising prowess. 

Junge told The Detroit News last week that he intends to challenge Slotkin again. Chatter has also centered on GOP state Sen. Tom Barrett, who lives outside Charlotte. His Senate territory overlaps with much of the draft Lansing congressional district, covering Eaton, Clinton, Shiawassee counties and parts of Ingham County. 

GOP strategists point to Slotkin’s votes in line with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and say that will hurt her in a swing district. They pilloried her in 2018 with the “carpetbagger” label after she moved back to Michigan from D.C., and they are already taking digs at her plan to leave Oakland County. 

“I thought @RepSlotkin’s whole reason for running was her deep emotional family ties to the ‘The Farm’ in Holly. Now she just abandons it for her own political purposes?” tweeted GOP strategist Jamie Roe. “Shocking I tell you, shocking.”

Slotkin said, “If that’s the worst attack they throw at me, that would be great.” 

“Obviously I am not going to sell my family farm. It’ll still be here,” she added.

“But the world changes, and I think there will be a number of members of Congress, both Democrat and Republican, who may be moving based on this process. Not to mention state senators and state House members.”

With her electoral future hanging in the balance, Slotkin last week welcomed President Joe Biden to her district, where he touted his massive social policy and climate package in the most Republican county in her district.

On the drive to the event, Slotkin urged the president to focus on messaging, with the GOP attack ads against her focused on the price of his budget bill and protesters with profane signs along the highway objecting to its cost, which Democratic leaders had newly pegged at about $2 trillion, down from $3.5 trillion.

Having staked out a moderate position, Slotkin said she privately told the president that, to win her vote, the bill needs to be “targeted and transformational, doing one or two things really well.”

“Not everyone’s pet rock,” she said.

She also praised Biden for coming to a part of the country that didn’t vote for him. That’s how she thinks she won her district in 2020 when Biden didn’t. 

“It was the really small rural communities across the district … where I showed up,” she said. “These are areas where I took an interest. Places where many people will tell me, we haven’t seen a Democrat show up here in 40 years.”

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