Just after re-election to the U.S. Senate through the 2024 term, Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow announced her retirement, a decision fueled by “passing the torch” to a new generation of leaders. “Inspired by a new generation of leaders, I have decided to pass the torch in the U.S. Senate. I am announcing today that I will not seek re-election and will leave the U.S. Senate at the end of my term on January 3, 2025,” Stabenow said in a press release.
The candidates that follow Stabenow will have big shoes to fill for Michigan’s now-open senate seat. Stabenow was elected to the Ingham County Commission in 1974, at age 24, where she became a trailblazer as the first woman to chair the board. That was the first of many ‘first’ woman historic milestones she reached in her career, including being the first woman elected from Michigan to serve in the U.S. Senate.
As the unprecedented announcement sent shockwaves through Michigan’s political sphere, politicians on both sides of the aisle have been scrambling to take advantage of the new opportunity. Who could be contending for Sen. Stabenow’s seat in 2024? Some, like Michigan Democratic Reps. Elissa Slotkin and Debbie Dingell, have already announced their interest in running for Senate, while others may still slowly come out of the woodwork.
One Detroit contributors Stephen Henderson, host of “American Black Journal,” and Nolan Finley, of the Detroit News, sit down for a conversation about who might make a bid for U.S. Senate in 2024, the challenge for Republicans to take back the seat, and the financial investments needed to make a strong bid.
Nolan Finley, The Detroit News: Well, Steve, the unexpected retirement of Senator Debbie Stabenow puts Michigan at about a once-in-a-quarter-century position, an open Senate seat.
Stephen Henderson, Host of American Black Journal: Yeah.
Nolan Finley No incumbent running in 2024. It’s going to be a free for all, isn’t it? I mean, everybody in Michigan who’s ever had the ambition to be a senator. This is their opportunity.
Stephen Henderson: Well, the problem is if you have any idea in your head that this is what you want to do, you’ve got to jump because it may not come up again when you have the chance. I mean, first, we should note that Debbie Stabenow has this extraordinary career in the Senate. First woman elected from the State of Michigan. She unseated the last Republican to hold that seat. We’re going to miss her.
We have a lot of names to go through thinking about the replacement. But I think Elissa Slotkin on the Democratic side starts with maybe the most advantage. Somebody who just won in probably the toughest congressional districts, at least in the Midwest, if not the country, has a lot of money and gets R and I votes. She can appeal to voters who are not part of her party.
Nolan Finley: I think she’s got some issues in her own party.
Stephen Henderson: A lot of other people.
Nolan Finley: The progressives aren’t crazy about her.
Stephen Henderson: Yeah. No, they aren’t.
Nolan Finley: I heard someone say this week, we don’t need another Joe Manchin Democrat. We don’t need a Kyrsten Sinema. So she starts with some troubles there. And right now, she’s getting a lot of attention because she’s expressed some interest. You throw Jocelyn Benson in, the Secretary of State, how does that change the dynamic? A Dan Kildee, a Debbie Dingell, a lot of names on the Democratic side, some we probably haven’t even thought about.
Stephen Henderson: Garlin Gilchrist, I think, is another person who should be in the mix.
Nolan Finley: Progressives would love him. So I think it’ll be a crowded primary field unless the interests of the Democratic Party decide they don’t want a crowded field. The Republican side has fewer names.
Stephen Henderson: Well, part of the problem is that Republicans have not won a Senate race here since 1994. That will be 30 years when we have this election in 2024. Statewide has been a problem for Republicans for a long time.
Stephen Henderson: Rick Snyder.
Nolan Finley: Until recently they held most statewide office but you’re right. The senate’s been a tough one since they lost that seat. But you may see Ronna Romney McDaniels come back.
Stephen Henderson: Come back.
Nolan Finley: John James may decide, well, gosh, I’ve served in Congress.
Stephen Henderson: Run for a third time for Senate.
Nolan Finley: I think that would be a mistake by the way. But there are not so many names. I think that will change. I think you’ll see people on the Republican side come out of the business community to make a bid.
Stephen Henderson: And Peter Maer, I think over in Grand Rapids, somebody who again, has that appeal or potential appeal across the party divide through if he can get through the primary.
Nolan Finley: I think this was starting to come into focus a little more. People have only had a week or two to weigh these. You and I may get in the race.
Stephen Henderson: That’s right, everybody is a possible candidate.
Nolan Finley: And that’s the truth, right now. There is no clear person in any party who can say, I’ve got this because there have been so many people waiting for this chance.
Stephen Henderson: And it also really depends on the national climate at that time, right? If Democrats go into 2024 with a stronger economy than they had in 2022, depending on who is at the top of the ticket, it may be even harder for Republicans. But it’s entirely possible that Republicans will be expecting a big wave in 2024 if things aren’t better.
Nolan Finley: If the economy goes into the tank. If Joe Biden remains unpopular and he’s at the top of the ticket.
Stephen Henderson: You have no idea.
Nolan Finley: And if Trump’s on the ticket, it changes that dynamic of who we might herd or carry in, depending on what the mood in the country is. It’s very early.
Stephen Henderson: Yeah.
Nolan Finley: It’s two years out. I think it’ll shape out over the summer.
Stephen Henderson: It’s not so early, though, because of the money that it takes. You’re talking about $100 million to raise. One of the interesting things I talked to Debbie Stabenow about was that she raised an awful lot of money last year, more than $1,000,000. That was money that she was raising for the seat. That’s money that… I don’t know. Does that come into the race? Does she put that behind somebody? It’s got to go somewhere.
Nolan Finley: It can’t go to a condo in Traverse City.
Stephen Henderson: Not anymore, right? They stopped that.
Nolan Finley: What about Pete Buttigieg? He moved here for a reason.
Stephen Henderson: I think he could be somebody who’s looking at something like that. I mean, he’d have to do a lot in terms of digging into Michigan and raising his profile.
Nolan Finley: But carpetbaggers have won.
Stephen Henderson: But the idea Stabenow, as not just a kingmaker, as the person in the seat, or queen maker, but as the person who has some resources to lend to.
Nolan Finley: So why is she going now, Steve? As we close.
Stephen Henderson: She said it’s time for a new generation. But she also said she’s got a mother who’s aging and she wants to spend more time with her. She needs more time to do that. I think lots of people are in that position these days trying to figure out how to care for elderly parents. Work has got to come second.
Nolan Finley: And this is a six-year commitment. It’s not like you’re running for Congress for two years.
Stephen Henderson: She’ll be 74 in 2024, I think.
Nolan Finley: Nobody in that age group can look ahead and say, yeah, I can do this another six years. You just don’t know.
Stephen Henderson: It makes the election much more exciting, right off the job.
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