In American politics, there’s never too long of a breather between election cycles. In the last 10 months, Michiganders have seen a presidential election, a round of summer primaries and local races and are now facing down the 2022 midterm cycle. While midterms historically have lower voter turnout and less publicity, this coming year’s midterm promises to be one to watch.
Michigan, having been a crucial swing state in the 2020 election, stands to be an interesting landscape for 2022 campaigns and candidates trying to make their way into the public’s good graces. A highly contentious gubernatorial race, along with the highly-anticipated results of the Citizens’ Independent Redistricting Commission, could change the state’s political tides, along the lines of issues like COVID-19, voting rights and racial justice.
So, what does that look like on the ground?
Michigan voters are in the third year of a gubernatorial term that has been filled with crises and national attention focused on Lansing. Incumbent Democrat Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will seek reelection, as will her top deputies, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson.
While an opinion poll released by the Detroit Regional Chamber in May placed Whitmer’s approval rating at approximately 50%, an 8% drop from previous polling in February, her public approval rate has remained relatively steady throughout the pandemic. Questions were raised about Whitmer’s viability for reelection following her controversial handling of the coronavirus in Michigan, but, from an early angle, her campaign seems to be robust.
Reelect Whitmer reported in July it had raised $8.5 million in 2021 alone, the most money ever raised by a Michigan gubernatorial candidate in a non-election year. The governor’s campaign spokesman, Mark Fisk, attributed the fundraising success to the "enormous trust” citizens place in Whitmer’s ability to “put Michigan first and continue leading our state forward.”
Fisk’s statement, and the campaign’s overall messaging, aim to emphasize what they believe to be the governor’s skill in leading Michigan both through the pandemic, and the corresponding economic recovery.
Gov. Whitmer doesn’t seem to face many challengers yet: the only mainstream Republican slated to run against her is former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, whose exploratory committee highlights public safety and the strengthening of law enforcement.
While it’s still relatively early in the cycle for primary challengers to emerge, many Michiganders are awaiting a much-theorized announcement from twice-failed Republican U.S. Senate candidate John James, following rumors of him allegedly weighing the decision to run for a third public office.
In a brief respite from the many other elections, neither of Michigan’s two Senators will be up for reelection this year. Democrats Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow will remain in office for another six-year term cycle.
On the congressional front, Lansing-area voters may be in for a contested race for Michigan's 8th district. Incumbent Democrat Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin has won both her terms by a narrow margin, three points in 2020 and four points in 2018. The makeup of her constituency suggests she could potentially be unseated by a Republican challenger.
In April, the Livingston Post reported that area residents were subjects of a phone poll in which they were asked how likely they’d be to support John James if he were to run against Slotkin in the 8th district congressional race. They were also asked similar questions were he to run against Gov. Whitmer in the gubernatorial race.
While James, a Farmington Hills native, doesn’t currently reside in Slotkin’s district, it’s probable he will be eligible to oppose her after the results of the statewide redistricting. A representative for John James was not available for comment.
Slotkin, a former CIA analyst and state department head under presidents Bush and Obama, has a moderate voting record. This has, at times, set her at odds with constituents who compare her to nearby Democrat colleagues with more progressive views and voting history. As the election cycle continues to unfold, Slotkin could face a dilemma, in which her primary bloc of support is divided between moderates and progressives, making her more vulnerable to a Republican candidate who has the unified support of their party's voters.
Nevertheless, Michigan congressional races will be ones to watch, as the state’s evenly split bipartisan delegation contains seats that are considered crucial for Democrats to keep their current majority in the House of Representatives.
While the Lansing area is coming off of its local summer election cycle, candidates for the statehouse are just getting started. Graham Diedrich, a graduate student at Michigan State and candidate for state representative, says that state government officials “just aren’t living up to the expectations of the voters” with regards to the changes they promised to facilitate in their campaigns. He said people are ready for candidates who reject bald partisanism and present policy stances which seek to solve issues faced every day on the ground.
Diedrich will likely run against incumbent Rep. Julie Brixie, a first-term moderate Democrat, in an attempt to bring more progressive policies, such as the Green New Deal and Medicare for All, to the Lansing area.
In the same vein as high-profile progressives like New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Diedrich believes that it’s important for young people to run for office with the interest of replacing older establishment Democrats. Diedrich views his campaign as a “trailblazer” in Michigan’s political landscape and acknowledged that facing voters’ political burnout will be a challenge in the coming months.
“People have said that, ‘Oh, I’m just checking out for now,’” Diedrich said.
Given the short breaks between election cycles, especially in the Lansing area, voter apathy and partisan fatigue can be common among people who have been heavily canvassed or who have put time and energy into being politically active. With so much information to take in and so many people to keep track of, a midterm election cycle can seem like just another circus for Americans to add to their to-do lists. This one is still in its infancy, but don’t let that undermine its importance.
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Diedrich’s take? “We can’t check out right now.”
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