Inside the Early Elbowing for Michigan’s Open Senate Seat

When Sen. Debbie Stabenow announced her retirement last week, Michigan Democrats were scrambling within hours to find a candidate who could win in a state that Joe Biden took in 2020 by less than three points.

In the hours and days following, many prominent Democrats from the Great Lakes State have passed on running. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI), and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan have all said they have no interest.

But according to three Democratic campaign strategists involved in early discussions, two Democrats have quickly emerged as favorites for the nomination: Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) and state Sen. Mallory McMorrow.

“My sense with Elissa has probably been the boldest without announcing, and I think she will garner a lot of attention inside and outside of the state,” one of the Wolverine State strategists told The Daily Beast.

While Slotkin is already considering a run, according to a Democratic source familiar with internal discussions, McMorrow has also been taking calls from supporters about jumping in. But according to another operative involved in the conversations, she hasn’t made a decision.

McMorrow capitalized on a viral floor speech to lead a $2.35 million fundraising haul for state Senate campaigns, where Democrats were able to flip the chamber for the first time since 1984.

While Whitmer and Buttigieg would instantly be favorites to take the Democratic nomination, neither of them are expected to change their minds, according to two sources in contact with their staffs.

“For both of them in some ways it would be a step down, and I can’t imagine why any governor would run for U.S. Senate,” another Democratic operative told The Daily Beast.

Yet another Democratic strategist recalled a story from within Whitmer’s inner circle, where a top adviser said Slotkin is “too smart to run for Congress.” The back-handed compliment was, indeed, taken by some in the room as praise, but also by others as a dig that the congresswoman and former CIA analyst would struggle to connect with the statewide electorate.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Joceyln Benson have also been mentioned by campaign consultants as possible candidates, with the first Wolverine State operative saying Benson would be the more likely of the two to jump in.

Aside from Slotkin, Rep. Haley Stevens is considered the other most likely Representative to enter the race—so much so that someone bought a pair of Senate-related domain pages under “Haley for Senate” on Jan. 9.

On the GOP side, the picture is much murkier.

Democrats have plenty of options at their disposal, but most of the GOP chatter upon Stabenow’s retirement immediately turned to Rep. John James, the newly sworn-in GOP congressman who lost Senate bids in both 2018 and 2020.

Other names in the mix include former Rep. Peter Meijer, one of the 10 impeachment votes against Donald Trump following the Jan. 6 insurrection. Meijer subsequently lost his 2022 reelection bid in a primary challenge from a Trump-endorsed candidate. Tudor Dixon, the DeVos family-backed GOP challenger who lost to Whitmer for governor in 2022, is also considered a possibility.

“Democrats have a deep, deep bench in Michigan, and it is full of stars,” one of the Democratic consultants said. “Republicans have the opposite problem, and the fact that the first name that came out of people’s mouths is John James proves that.”

One wildcard hanging over the race is former Republican Rep.-turned-independent-turned-Libertarian: Justin Amash. Amash left Congress in 2021, handing over his seat to Meijer. But the conservative lawmaker, who personally despised Donald Trump and left the GOP over the party’s hard turn toward MAGA policies, could draw votes from both Democrats and Republicans if he chooses to run.

A source close to Amash told The Daily Beast Thursday night that he was seriously looking at the Senate race and weighing how he would run. Michigan’s state laws make it difficult for anyone outside the two parties to win, so Amash could end up running for the Republican nomination. But he also has been looking at running as an independent or perhaps just serving as an independent in the Senate if he were elected.

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