Stabenow's retirement sparks bipartisan scramble for Michigan Senate seat

The Republican Party immediately declared a Michigan Senate seat a prime pickup opportunity after Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) announced plans to retire in 2024.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee gloated in a statement that Stabenow was departing even before the rival Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had found a new chairman, vowing to invest heavily to flip this seat. “We’re going to aggressively target this seat in 2024. This could be the first of many Senate Democrats who decide to retire rather than lose,” NRSC spokesman Mike Berg said.

Michigan is a perennial battleground state. Former President Donald Trump won the state narrowly in 2016, and President Joe Biden captured it back for the Democrats by a slightly larger, albeit still small, margin in 2020. But Democrats are optimistic about holding Stabenow’s seat next year after their party ran the table in Michigan in 2022 in midterm elections initially predicted to unfold as a Republican wave.

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Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.
Andrew Harnik

“The strength of the Democratic Party in Michigan has reached new heights and we have full confidence in our ability to defend this seat,” state party Chairwoman Lavora Barnes said in a lengthy statement.

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The Democrats emerged from the November elections in control of every statewide office in Michigan as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) rolled to reelection by defeating Republican challenger Tudor Dixon 54.5% to 43.9%. Additionally, the Democratic Party captured both chambers of the state legislature for the first time in four decades. Meanwhile, since 1972, the Republicans have won just two Senate elections in Michigan.

That explains why Democrats are so assured of victory in 2024 — before it’s clear who the party’s nominees will be. Among the potential Democratic candidates are Rep. Haley Stevens (D-MI) and Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI). Slotkin, who ousted a Republican in a swing district in 2018 and won reelection in a redrawn GOP-leaning district in 2022, is expected to receive encouragement from party insiders to mount a Senate bid.

Slotkin’s spokesman declined to comment on the congresswoman’s interest in running. Other possible Democratic candidates include Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, state Attorney General Dana Nessel, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg — now a permanent Michigan resident — and Whitmer.

However, both Buttigieg and Whitmer quickly pulled their names from contention.

Meanwhile, several Republicans are expected to give the contest consideration, including Rep.-elect John James (R-MI), the GOP nominee for Senate in 2018 and 2020. In a statement provided to the Washington Examiner on Thursday, James did not rule out a 2024 Senate bid. “Look, I haven’t even been sworn into Congress yet. So here’s my plan: Get sworn in and get to work serving the people of Michigan’s 10th district,” James said.

Among other Republicans to watch are former Rep. Peter Meijer (R-MI), Kevin Rinke, a businessman and candidate for governor in 2022, and Reps. Lisa McClain (R-MI) and Bill Huizenga (R-MI). A GOP operative with Michigan ties expects many Democrats and Republicans to be floated for Stabenow’s seat, with several developments likely, before the primary fields solidify and the contest gets underway in earnest.

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Stabenow was first elected to the Senate in 2006, a Democratic wave year, and has been a loyal lieutenant of Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) through most of her tenure.