We’re now almost a year away from the 2018 general election and the contours of some key congressional races in Michigan are starting to take shape.
If U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) is planning to retire from his 6th District perch, you couldn’t tell from his half-million dollar fundraising haul last quarter.
The 30-year congressman has emerged as a somewhat surprising Democratic target after reviving Trumpcare in the U.S. House earlier this year. His allies have repeatedly shot down rumors that he’ll forgo re-election.
Now if Upton wants to run for U.S. Senate next year, he still has his work cut out for him, as incumbent Debbie Stabenow pulled in $1.7 million in the third quarter. The former U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee chair’s $1.1 million in the bank is impressive, but pales in comparison to Stabenow’s almost $7 million war chest.
U.S. Senate candidates typically jump in by now, given the enormous fundraising required to run. The GOP field is already fairly crowded, and includes former Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bob Young and Iraq war veteran John James.
But Upton, an heir to the Whirlpool fortune known for posting enviable campaign finance reports, has the luxury of getting in late. Chatter about his Senate candidacy reached a fever pitch just before the Republican Mackinac Leadership Conference last month, but the veteran congressman still hasn’t showed his hand.
Meanwhile, Michigan’s most vulnerable incumbent, U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop (R-Rochester), probably wasn’t happy to discover he’d raised almost $100,000 less than his most prominent 8th District challenger, former Defense Department Assistant Secretary Elissa Slotkin.
She was part of an elite group of challengers who outraised 11 incumbents in the last period. That’s a feat that Haley Stevens, chief of staff for former President Obama’s Auto Task Force, achieved in the second quarter against U.S. Rep. Dave Trott (R-Birmingham) in the 11th District.
He’s since announced his retirement, opening the door for a flurry of candidates on both sides of the aisle to either enter the race or flirt with it. Most didn’t have to file campaign finance reports yet, but it’s notable that another Democrat who declared before Trott bowed out, former Detroit Immigration Office Director Fayrouz Saad, actually raised more than Stevens in the last period.
Although Trott unsurprisingly raised only about $20,000 in the third quarter, he has roughly a quarter-million dollars left in the bank, which he could use to fund his favored successor and other targeted Republicans.
Another congressman who didn’t collect much cash last period was former Ways and Means Committee Chair Sandy Levin (D-Southfield), who raised $17,000. Levin, who’s been in Congress since 1983 and represents the 9th District, has taken in just under $100,000 for the cycle.
Levin is considered untouchable — he occupies a safe Democratic seat with a 61.4 percent base, per Inside Michigan Politics, and it would be a suicide mission for any Dem who primaried him. But he’s long been the subject of retirement rumors and hasn’t said if he’ll run again in 2018. Naturally, Levin’s latest fundraising has only fueled speculation.
There’s no shortage of Democrats who could run to succeed him, including state Sen. Steve Bieda (D-Warren), former state Rep. Sarah Roberts (D-Saint Clair Shores) and Andy Levin, the congressman’s son who is a former Gov. Jennifer Granholm administration official.
Of course, money isn’t everything in a campaign — messaging, strategy and national political winds can be key. But at this stage of the cycle, fundraising remains one of the better ways to gauge races.
Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.