DETROIT (CN) – Republican Mike Bishop has represented Michigan’s 8th Congressional District since 2015 but faces a Democratic challenger nipping at his heels in a midterm election that could be a referendum on President Donald Trump. Elissa Slotkin hopes she can end Bishop’s reign in a race that’s drawn national interest and broken a state election spending record.
Michigan will also have a new governor, as Rick Snyder is concluding a tumultuous second term in which Flint is still recovering from a contaminated drinking water crisis brought on partly by his policies. Complaints about crumbling roads will also be a challenge for Republican Bill Schuette or Democrat Gretchen Whitmer when they ascend to the highest office in the state.
Schuette has served as Michigan’s attorney general since 2010 and was re-elected in 2014.
Whitmer has previously served as the Democratic leader of the Michigan Senate. She was appointed as interim Ingham County prosecutor after the elected prosecutor was forced to resign. She served for six months during the Larry Nassar sex-abuse scandal at Michigan State University.
In the 8th District race, Bishop and Slotkin are running in the most expensive congressional race in state history. According to federal disclosures obtained by the Detroit News, the contest has seen nearly $7.6 million in outside spending on top of the $9 million raised by the candidates themselves.
The 8th District is located in southern Michigan and includes part of the state capital, Lansing. Poll aggregator RealClearPolitics calls the race a toss-up.
Bishop, a former attorney who has served in both the Michigan Senate and House of Representatives, touts his pro-gun rights and pro-life values, opposes sanctuary cities and supports strong immigration enforcement, according to his campaign website.
Slotkin is a third-generation Michigander. According to her campaign website, her great-grandfather founded Hygrade Foods in Detroit in 1949, serving ball park franks at Tiger Stadium. She was recruited to work for the CIA shortly after 9/11, serving for five years as a Middle East analyst.
Slotkin supports women’s and LGBT rights. She says her mother came out as gay in the 1980s and lived with a same-sex partner until her death.
Brighton resident Judy Urban said she will not vote for Slotkin, explaining that she failed the litmus test on abortion.
“If Jesus Christ isn’t happy, I’m not happy,” Urban said.
Urban pledged to vote a straight Republican ticket because of the party’s devotion to God. She considers herself an old-fashioned American.
“I salute the flag and kneel for the cross,” she said, holding the forearm of this Courthouse News reporter.
Urban thinks Schuette will be a fine governor because he “loves God.” She says she has a mutual friend who used to work with the Republican candidate who told her he was “honest, good and kind to work with.”
Lorrie Mann – who is also from Brighton, about 40 minutes outside of Lansing – supports Slotkin because of her experience in the intelligence community, and considers the Democratic candidate in the 8th District to be open and honest.
Mann supports Whitmer for governor because she “couldn’t possibly vote for Bill Schuette.”
“I’ve learned too much about this administration to ever give them a vote,” she said decisively.
Mann’s frustration with President Trump is palatable but she says this election is bigger than him.
“There are a lot of local issues that are important to me here in Michigan that I don’t think President Trump cares about, as far as the Great Lakes, as far as Flint water and the water issues that are going on elsewhere now,” she said. “We’ve got a real problem here.”
Ed Began from Hamburg, five miles south of Brighton, also values Slotkin’s past experience with the CIA. He said he already voted a straight Democratic ticket via absentee ballot.
“I’m very pro-woman,” he said, his voice cracking. “I have daughters her age. And I know how qualified they are.”
Began believes Schuette cannot escape the fact that Flint’s water was poisoned under his watch as attorney general.
“Even if I was an Independent I couldn’t vote for him because he was an integral part of the Flint water crisis. He and the governor should be in jail as far as I’m concerned,” Began said. “And I think that [Whitmer] has the qualifications as well. And number one, she’s a woman.”
While the midterm election could be seen as a referendum on Trump, Began believes gerrymandering is a bigger issue in Michigan as well as nationally. A proposal to amend the process to establish election districts is on the Michigan ballot this fall.
“Get this gerrymandering taken care of and under control,” he said.
Tony Infante of Saginaw believes Slotkin is more prepared than Bishop to represent the 8th District.
“[She’s] far more qualified than Mike Bishop, who I’ve known for a long time,” he said.
“She’s demonstrated clearly that her experience serving her country since before the age of 28 is far more balanced and reasonable and what Michigan voters are clearly looking for.”
Infante also said he will vote for Whitmer for governor.
“She’s talking about health care, which is a concern for all Michiganders,” he said.
President Trump endorsed Schuette for governor on Twitter in September 2017 with a tweet that misspelled his name. It was later deleted. Schuette’s vocal support of Trump has subsided over the course of this year.
In a poll published by the Detroit News, Whitmer leads Schuette by 12 percentage points.