When Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan announced her retirement six months ago, some expected a rush of candidates to join the fight for a rare open seat in a state that President Joe Biden won by 3 points. Instead, the field has grown at a glacial pace, with Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin having it largely to herself for months.
“There’s not a race,” says Adrian Hemond, a Michigan Democratic strategist who sees no serious competition keeping Slotkin from securing her party’s nomination.
And on the Republican side? “The state GOP is in shambles, both the field for the Senate race and the state party itself,” Hemond says.
Yet the race could be on the verge of a serious shake up, as multiple contenders may be poised to jump in.
John Tuttle, the vice chair of the New York Stock Exchange, is likely to enter the race and could make an announcement as early as mid-July, according to a source clued into Michigan politics and familiar with Tuttle’s thinking. Tuttle, who hails from Milford, Michigan, is seen as a favorite of party leadership, with National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Steve Daines calling him a “strong potential recruit” in a Politico story last month about his mulling a bid.
Former Rep. Peter Meijer, the same source said, is also seriously looking at the race, and has begun to initiate phone calls with consultants, although may wait months before making a final decision. Meijer served in the House representing part of West Michigan for two years before angering conservatives by voting to impeach President Donald Trump weeks after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. He lost his GOP primary last year.
“I appreciate your tenacity and I will let you know when I have comment there,” Meijer said this week on the Julie Mason Show on SiriusXM when asked about the race.
Democrats swept Michigan’s elections in last year’s midterms, enabling them to enact numerous liberal priorities, like becoming the first state to repeal a right-to-work law in more than half a century and expanding LGBTQ protections. Yet a more moderate candidate from either party with crossover appeal could still potentially perform well there, Michigan insiders say. That’s largely why Slotkin, a member of the House’s bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, is seen as the one to beat.
Democrats and Republicans alike also consider Meijer, an army veteran descended from the founder of the Meijer supermarket chain, a strong general election candidate, given his political brand and ability to self-fund. But they consider it all but impossible for Meijer to win a Republican primary.
Former Rep. Fred Upton, another Michigan Republican who also voted to impeach Trump before retiring, says Meijer would be formidable if he could just get his party’s nomination.
“The Meijer name is so well known and so respected. They do so much for every community,” Upton says. “Peter would have a leg up on a lot of folks. But again, the Trump people would kneecap him.”
Read more: Why Fred Upton Called It Quits
But there may be yet another middle-of-the-road contender for the GOP to pin its hopes on. Former Rep. Mike Rogers, who has spoken openly about a possible presidential bid in recent months, is also considering jumping into the Senate race instead, according to a Republican strategist with knowledge of his thinking. Rogers did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
Another name Republicans are talking about, though with less enthusiasm, is that of former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, who told the Detroit News earlier this year he was considering a run. Craig was regarded as a top candidate for governor last year until he failed to submit enough valid signatures to make the ballot.
That setback hurt his credibility, says Republican strategist Dennis Lennox. “I have a hard time believing somebody who couldn’t even get on the ballot for governor and then ran in an embarrassing write-in campaign … is going to put in the type of work that’s required” for a successful Senate bid, he says.
Lennox was also skeptical of Michigan State Board of Education member Nikki Snyder, the most prominent Republican already in the race: “On paper, sure, she’s a state board of education member, but for all practical purposes, she’s a nobody.”
Michigan Republicans have won only two Senate races in the last half century, making many of the party’s best prospects skittish about vying for Stabenow’s seat. Some may be particularly wary of running on a ballot that could have Trump at the top of the ticket.
And potential candidates are especially concerned about how the competition across the aisle is shaping up.
Every Republican who spoke with TIME expects that Slotkin will be the Democratic nominee. While some Republicans still hope a primary could damage her standing, Stabenow and Democratic Party leaders have worked to help Slotkin avoid a messy primary. Prominent Democrats like Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist have bowed out.
That doesn’t mean the congresswoman is running unopposed. Pamela Pugh, President of the Michigan State Board of Education, is already in the race.
And then there’s perhaps the biggest wild card of all for Democrats: Hill Harper. For months, the actor and author, who currently is part of the cast of ABC’s The Good Doctor, has been talked about as a potential candidate, and has been the subject of buzz among Michigan progressives. Harper declined to comment for this story but is widely expected to launch his bid for Senate as early as next month.
With Slotkin already running, some don’t see a viable path for any other Democrat, not even a prominent actor like Harper with strong ties to Detroit’s Black communities. Slotkin’s campaign appears to be in a dominant position, having raised $3 million in the first quarter. Slotkin this month earned the endorsement of fellow Rep. Haley Stevens, who represents the 11th District, north of Detroit.
“In the four months since launching, our campaign earned diverse support from community and business leaders, elected officials, and labor unions across the state,” said Slotkin spokesperson Austin Cook in a statement to TIME. “The path to holding the Senate majority runs through Michigan, and Elissa is a tested leader and lifelong public servant who is working hard to meet voters where they are.”
Upton says the prospects of Slotkin as the nominee makes becoming her Republican opponent an unappealing proposition for many contenders.
“You wake up tired and broke and you’re facing a pretty strong challenger in an open seat,” Upton says. “She’ll have many millions in the bank.”
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