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Keep an eye on the race in Michigan's 8th Congressional district

Apr 6, 2018

Elissa Slotkin was twenty-five and in her second day of graduate school in New York City the day the planes slammed into the towers, and, her life, like so many others, was changed.

“I felt I had to do something in service to my country,” she said. That led to the Central Intelligence Agency and three tours of duty in Iraq, where she served with the soldiers and eventually married Colonel Dave Moore, an Apache helicopter pilot.

Slotkin was a long way from the farm in Holly, Michigan, where she spent summers, or the Detroit suburbs where her mom lived. Eventually, she worked in the White House in both the Bush and Obama administrations, rising to become acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for National Security Affairs. Now, she’s running for Congress.

But though she’s a national expert on foreign policy and security issues, things she cares deeply about, that’s not the main reason she’s running.

Nor is she, as you might expect, a Republican. She is a progressive Democrat, and what got her into this race was health care. Her mother Judith, a well-known marketing and public relations professional in the Detroit area, had no health insurance when she was diagnosed with Stage Four ovarian cancer nine years ago. “She was lying on an MRI gurney and we had to write an $8,000 check before they would treat her,” Slotkin remembers.

Judith Slotkin died in 2011. Her daughter had no desire to serve in the administration that came to power last year, and came back to Holly to run a small consulting business. Last year, she was watching when her congressman, Mike Bishop, voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. “He was smiling, beaming, so proud that he had voted to repeal Obamacare with no replacement in place,” she said. “I looked at my husband and said: This will not stand. You don’t get to do this. In the military, this is called dereliction of duty.”

And so Slotkin is running in Michigan’s eighth district, which stretches from Republican northern Oakland County to Democratic Lansing. Once a swing district, it was gerrymandered to make it safe for longtime GOP congressman Mike Rogers.

But he retired four years ago, and was replaced by Bishop, a former GOP majority leader in the senate. While the district is Republican, it is not impossibly so. President Obama won it, and Bishop has won twice against weak opponents in solidly Republican years.

This November, both parties know, isn’t expected to be good for Republicans. Slotkin has an uphill fight, but may have some surprising assets.

For one thing, her story is as American as ball park franks –literally. Her great-grandfather left the old country, came to Michigan and founded the Hygrade food company, where he invented the famous ball park frank. “Plus, with my military background, I get people to talk to me who think I am a Republican for the first two minutes,” she said.

In fact, she is deeply patriotic, and deeply troubled by an administration she thinks is ruining our position in the world. And her district is a few shades more Democratic than the one in Pennsylvania where Democrat Conor Lamb won that stunning special election last month.

I don’t know how worried Mike Bishop is. But I would think he should be.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.