As we kick off the first few weeks of 2022, Michigan politics have already brought forth some interesting changes. WIth new congressional maps adopted in the state, and statewide election races in motion, a lot of funding and competition are likely to build up over the next 10 months approaching November. Looking ahead, One Detroit’s Christy McDonald sits down with contributors Stephen Henderson and Nolan Finley for a roundtable discussion to talk about what might be coming next in Michigan politics this year.

Full Transcript: 

Christy McDonald, One Detroit, DPTV: All right, Nolan and Steven, ’22 promises to be a good one when it comes to politics. We’re talking about statewide races, we’re talking about the money that’s coming into the state and we’re talking about the new congressional and legislative maps as well. It’s all balled into one. So I’m going to start with you, Nolan, and tell me what you are really watching this year for ’22 in politics.

Nolan Finley, Editorial Page Editor, The Detroit News: Well, I think the congressional races, if you look at the start of last year to where we are today, Republicans have made a remarkable comeback in their prospects. I wouldn’t have given them much hope at all coming into the 2022 midterms a year ago, but they’re well poised this year to, I think, exceed the average gains parties can expect in a midterm election. The average since World War II has been 26 seat pickups in the House, 4 in the Senate. They could even do that. They’ve gained control of both chambers. They’re liable to do much better, primarily because of the really dismal approval ratings of Joe Biden and the prospects that inflation will get worse and Coronavirus will still be with us. So I think Congress, they’re well-suited. Michigan races…

Christy McDonald: What about in Michigan, though?

Nolan Finley: Well, Michigan, I think it’s not going to be as good a year for Republicans overall as it will be in the rest of the nation. They just don’t have a slate of candidates to match up against incumbents. It’s always hard in Michigan to unseat an incumbent after one term. They’re almost always re-elected. I can’t quite… I think it goes back to the 60s or before since a governor was defeated for a second term and Jim Blanchard, since a governor was defeated. So history works against Republicans, that and a very mediocre slate of candidates at this point.

Christy McDonald: Stephen, what about you? What are you watching?

Stephen Henderson, Host, American Black Journal: I am absolutely fascinated by the new lines here in Michigan, of course, and what they mean, what they won’t mean and who will, at this point, who will even try to run for these seats, some of them look so different.

Christy McDonald: Yeah, what are you hearing right now?

Stephen Henderson: You know, I think we’re going to have a lot of new candidates. I think we’re going to have a lot of people who sat out for a long time thinking, “Well, I don’t really understand what that district is that I would be running in” who have a clearer picture right now. I’ve had a couple of emails and a couple of phone calls from people looking to test the waters, and some of them have surprised me. You know, we also will have, of course, one fewer person in Congress. And we’ve already seen that Brenda Lawrence has decided that she won’t run again. I don’t think that’s a terrible surprise, but it does sort of, you know, it frees up a seat in absolute terms. I think on the national level, I think it’s really early to be saying the things that Republicans are saying about their prospects in November. If you look at what was happening toward the end of the year, the president’s poll numbers started to bounce back up just a little. You saw the speech that he gave on January 6th. That was a really different tone than we’ve seen this president take. It was a tone that a lot of Democrats have wanted him to take for the 12 months instead of trying to work with Republicans so much. The question is whether you can turn Democrats out.

It is not what Republicans do. Republicans are going to vote this year because they’re out of power and they want to get power back. But there are more registered Democrats than there are Republicans. There are more Independents. When you add them to Democrats, I think the case that the president will try to make and the vice president is, look, we are ready to lead this country away from all of the stuff that we had for the last four years. And forget some of those people who are stuck there. That is a really different message than they have been striking for the last 12 months. And maybe it will be successful, maybe it won’t, but they have a good record to run on. The S&P 500 hit 68 highs in 2021. It grew 25 percent. The first year of Trump it only grew 15 percent. You know, he got the recovery bill passed. He got the infrastructure bill passed. He got 100 million shots in 50 million arms when the vaccine was available. There are things that they can be talking about that they’ve done rather than the things that they haven’t been able to accomplish that I think may make some people think a little differently about all this.

Christy McDonald: One thing I think that we can all agree on is the amount of money that is going to be thrown around the country. Michigan, of course, but you can look at Georgia, you look around in a bunch of key states, and it feels like Nolan, every year we say it’s the most money that’s been spent in an election year. I mean, every two years. What are we looking at? I think when we’re looking at the top of the ticket also here in Michigan and then congressional-wide.

Nolan Finley: And it’ll be again the most expensive race in history in Michigan. Governor’s already starting out with $11 million plus or $10, $10.4 million, I think, plus the $4 million she raised under really questionable circumstances, claiming a recall…

Christy McDonald: That was cleared though, correct? That was. That was.

Stephen Henderson: Everyone says that was fine. Everyone said that…

Christy McDonald: I just want to throw that out there.

Stephen Henderson: And Republicans would have raised eight off of that.

Christy McDonald: Keep going Nolan, just wanted to verify.

Nolan Finley: She’s already got more money raised than races used to cost for the whole session, and she’s not done yet. The congressional races are going to draw in a ton of money, as are the legislative races, because of the new boundaries and new people running in both parties. It’s really desperate to grab a majority. So yeah, that’s going to be unlimited funding. I think it’s going to be unlimited funding until we get to the point where donors say, “Woah, this is a really bad investment.”

Christy McDonald: Yeah. Let me ask you about that in the traction or maybe the lack thereof that James Craig is doing right now. Let’s look at the governor’s race.

Nolan Finley: Yeah, well, I think James’ race has to be generous. James Craig, a candidate I like and supported his entry into the campaign, hasn’t caught fire and you know, he’s got a cut-cut-catch fire soon. I don’t think the Republicans have a good Secretary of State’s candidate against a candidate who should be vulnerable based on the long lines people have experienced in Michigan since she took office and the long wait times. They don’t have a candidate really with the mojo, I think, to beat her. They’ve got a better Attorney General candidate and Tom Leonard, I think he’s got a good chance, but you know, those races tend to go like the top of the ticket goes, and I think it’s going to be a struggle for them here.

Christy McDonald: Stephen: money and then the governor’s race.

Stephen Henderson: So I mean, the money always grows right? Like Nolan said, this will be the most expensive governor’s race, but the last one was the most expensive and the one before that was too, and that’s just the direction we’re headed. You know, in order to compete in these races, you have to raise ridiculous amounts of money, and that’s because the rules allow it. And money has been equated to speech in a way that we haven’t seen before in this country. It’s a way that I don’t necessarily agree with, but it is the law. And so that’s the game, and I’m not mad at Gov. Whitmer, you know, the Democrats for playing that game effectively. I mean, historically at least they were not as good at it as Republicans. She in this case, starts out ahead, and that’s good for her. You know, I don’t think we’re going to see a terribly close re-election bid by her. I think it will be easier than what Rick Snyder faced in 2014. And that is because there’s not a great candidate, James Craig.

Look, whatever you think of him personally, this is not a guy with any sort of record to recommend him to be the governor. You know, there are serious questions about his tenure as police chief both here in Detroit and Cincinnati, and he has no other experience. I mean, and he will continue to struggle also with this Republican problem, which is that if you embrace Donald Trump, you turn off Independents and Democrats, which you need to win a statewide race in Michigan, but if you push too far away from him, you turn off Republicans, and he has not figured out, I think, a credible way to navigate that in either primary or in a general election. Meanwhile, the governor will continue to just, you know, stockpile money and she’ll be able to run on a record. You know, he doesn’t have a record to match hers. And the criticisms that he’s leveled so far against her are kind of textbook, you know, conservative criticisms of liberal administrations. I just don’t see a lot going on there.

I think Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson is probably more unbeatable than the governor. You know, Nolan is mad about the lines. I think a lot of people are. But COVID, sorry. That has a lot to do with the things that went wrong in that office, and she’s trying to fix those. At the same time, her work on expanding and protecting voting rights is attracting national attention and national money. I don’t see anyone beating her. I think Dana Nessel could be vulnerable against the right candidate. I don’t know that Tom Leonard is that person. So I think you could probably hold serve here, and Nolan has said this before: there isn’t a Michigan governor since the 1960s who hasn’t run, who hasn’t won re-election, right?

Nolan Finley: For second term.

Stephen Henderson: But the second, the second time right? Jim Blanchard was beat in his bid for a third term, but everybody else, including him, was re-elected that second time. That’s kind of the pattern. I don’t know that we see the candidate or the circumstances here that would suggest something different in 2022.

Christy McDonald: So…go ahead Nolan.

Nolan Finley: We’ve got a new poll out this week that shows Whitmer well ahead, 10 points ahead, of any challenger. The other two doing quite well. In fact, it’s the curious part about this poll is that Whitmer’s numbers in terms of managing the epidemic, the pandemic improved when she sort of backed off and stopped management, managing it. Her numbers did much better than they, on that issue, than they were on the fall. She’s not going to take a hit for inflation the way the national candidates will, so…

Christy McDonald: It’s probably an interesting view about how people feel about control. You know, having this conversation about money, about the political climate in Michigan right now and finding this next generation of candidates and Nolan, you know, you talked about how Republicans just haven’t put up a good enough slate of candidates, maybe to beat the Democrats this time around, especially just looking in Michigan, who are the candidates, this next generation? I mean, what is the impetus to run when you have to earn— you have to raise so much money, you have to have, you know, the backings of certain people or certain organizations? What can we look forward to the next generation of candidates, and who is this, I guess, where we are in the political atmosphere? Who is coming out for that? Let me start with you, Stephen.

Stephen Henderson: So I mean, I think we have some good examples of the kinds of candidates who are going to be successful in Michigan in the coming years already. The person I point to more often than any other is Elissa Slotkin, who, you know, is a Democrat who ran in a district that had been held by Republicans for a really long time. She won that seat by striking a pretty moderate tone. You know, her background is in the military and in intelligence, and that appeals, I think, to a lot of Independents and maybe even to some Republicans. She’s now considered pretty safe, which I would not have necessarily assumed after getting elected in the part of the state where she is now. She’s, I think, likely to move for this new map like a lot of people are, but that’s because the lines look really different than they did. But I think that kind of candidate, somebody who you know, is liberal but also has that kind of moderate to conservative bent on certain issues, is going to be the kind of person who can win, especially on this new map, in the new congressional map in Michigan.

It does blend more communities together who have real differences, and the people who will be popular in those places will not be people on the far left or the far right. They’ll be more in the middle. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I mean, I don’t consider myself terribly in the middle, but I get the idea that when you represent communities with really different interests, you have to have representation that takes into account all those kind of people. I think Jocelyn Benson is somebody that, you know, despite Republican ire with her, is not going anywhere. I mean, she’s got one more term if she wants, you know, if she can win for Secretary of State, but her national profile has grown exponentially since she took that job. That’s somebody who could do lots more with her, with her political career. She’s also somebody who has appealed, I think, to the Independents and some Republicans with sort of moderate views on some things. I also think you’re going to see a crop of maybe not new, but new to electoral politics people crop up in places like Detroit, right? These Detroit districts that we have on the congressional map, it looked really different. And yeah, Rashida Tlaib is there representing the one, but the other is a toss up and you’re going to see some very interesting names that you have not seen in electoral politics before come forward to try to do that. So I’m not worried or fretful. I think we have some things to work out in Michigan in terms of our differences and =how we manage them, but I think we have a good crop and youngish crop of people already in elected office who are going to be around for a while.

Christy McDonald: Nolan, what do you think?

Nolan Finley: Well, I wrote this past weekend in my column about a young man named Michael Griffie running in the 13th. He had anticipated running against Rashida Tlaib, and it would have been a very nice contrast. I think he had a better chance running against her than he does running against the field in the 13th, which has now grown to several potential candidates. Be hard to get his head above, you know, above that field of better-known candidates, but I think term limits has hurt us tremendously in terms of developing leadership in Michigan. Folks don’t get to stay long around the Legislature long enough to season, long enough to build a name and build a reputation. We’ve seen a number of promising people pass through the Legislature, and then gone before they get a shot at higher office, or other offices. So I think that works against our goal of developing a talent pool here. But there are good folks out there and I hope some of them get through this election this time and get on their way.

Christy McDonald: All right, we’re going to have to leave it there. Appreciate the insight, gentlemen, and I will see you soon.


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