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Despite 2016 loss, Gretchen Driskell will take on Rep. Tim Walberg again

Jul 19, 2017

Despite losing by 15 points in one of the most expensive congressional battles in the state last year, former Saline mayor and state representative Gretchen Driskell believes 2018 could be different.

“Definitely the energy in the communities that I’ve visited since January, has really made a difference and really inspired me to work even harder,” Driskell says on her way from a campaign rollout in Saline to a meet and greet in Lansing.

“And I’m not in the state legislature this time, so I have more time and will actually be able to get out in the communities even more than I did last time. But really, clearly, there’s an energy in the communities in Michigan for change, and a lot of concern.”  

But this time, Driskell’s Democratic bid to unseat Republican Congressman Tim Walberg may be even more of an uphill battle.

For starters, it’s a tough district for Democrats. The map in Michigan’s 7th District is drawn to favor conservatives, running from just outside of Ann Arbor in Washtenaw County down south through Monroe, then extending west through Jackson, Lenawee, Hillsdale and Branch counties, before swinging up north to encompass Eaton County, too.  

Every one of those counties went for Walberg in 2016, except for Washtenaw, which narrowly landed in Driskell’s column by about 200 votes.

But now she’s hoping to capitalize on Walberg’s vote in favor of the House Republican’s healthcare bill, the American Health Care Act. It would have cut the deficit by $119 billion and increased the number of uninsured Americans by 23 million people over the next decade, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

“I did spend a lot of time listening to people, and they’re not happy with their congressman, Mr. Walberg,” Driskell says. “He took a bad vote on it for the AHCA, which is actually going to raise premiums for everyone* and for older Americans and raise premiums on preexisting conditions. There are a lot of people who are really upset about that … and we have huge challenges in our rural communities in particular with heroin and opioid addiction, and that bill will take away funding for people to get the help that they need.”

(*Quick fact check: under the House-passed AHCA, some people would have seen lower premiums, depending on their health and their age, while others – especially older, lower income Americans – would have seen their costs increase significantly.)

Both candidates raised millions in the last campaign cycle (Walberg ended the 2016 campaign with $2.4 million in contributions, while Driskell raised $2.5 million) and spent significantly dueling attack ads.

As of June 30, Walberg’s raised $400,000 in campaign contributions, while Driskell (who just officially announced her 2018 candidacy Wednesday morning) has brought in about $7,000 so far through her campaign committee.

As for whether her campaign will get national support this time around from donors and the DCCC, Driskell says that remains to be seen.

“Well, sure, I talked with some of our national partners the last couple of weeks, and said I was thinking about [running]. You know I actually talked to a lot of people, because I work hard, but I want to make sure that I’m doing the right – that people are going to support me,” she says. “We do have the national support of our partners that we worked with in the past. Obviously the decision of whether it’ll be a top race [to unseat Republican incumbents] like last cycle, that will come over time. But … there is a new energy of people that were not necessarily as active as last year.”

But in a district where many voters got behind President Trump’s campaign, Driskell is careful to say that “new energy” from concerned voters, isn’t necessarily aimed at the White House.

“Well, the people I’ve been talking to are not happy with Mr. Walberg. And that’s who, you know, I’m running for Congress, I’m not running for president. I work with whoever will be our president,” Driskell says. “But the people I’m talking with are unhappy with the congressman.”

Congressman Walberg’s campaign spokesman, Joe Wicks, issued the follow statement via email.

"Voters already rejected Gretchen Driskell because she lied repeatedly on her resume, couldn't pass any bills as a legislator, and now she starts her campaign in debt,” Wicks says. “Congressman Walberg is focused on continuing to successfully represent his constituents by advancing bipartisan solutions to create jobs, grow a healthy economy, and combat the opioid epidemic.”

Walberg’s campaign attacked Driskell in 2016 for describing herself as a real estate “broker,” which requires more training than her technical status as a real estate agent. Driskell argued the two terms are used interchangeably in that industry. According to the latest campaign filings, Driskell’s campaign owes about $165,000 in “debts/loans owed by committee.” 

UPDATE: We reached out to the Driskell campaign for a response to Walberg's team's criticism (ah, the back and forth for 2018 has already begun.) Driskell's campaign spokeswoman, Amy Friedman, got back to us and wanted to note a couple of things: 1) she says the $165,000 that's owed by the campaign is money that Driskell herself lent her own campaign; and 2) that "the broker issue was debunked last cycle and remains a baseless attack on Gretchen's record."