Republican Congressman Mike Rogers’ decision to retire from his 8th congressional district seat is leaving a void that Michigan Democrats hope to fill.
The 8th congressional district stretches over parts of Oakland, Livingston, Ingham, Shiawassee and Clinton counties. And since 2001, Mike Rogers has kept it safely in the Republican column.
But Rogers’ decision earlier this year to retire from the seat surprised many and set off a scramble to replace him.
On the Republican side, Tuesday’s primary is between former State Senate Majority leader Mike Bishop and current state Representative Tom McMillin. Both are conservatives who hold many of the same beliefs on key issues like repealing Obamacare, opposing gay marriage and securing the nation’s borders to curb illegal immigration.
Bishop says reducing the federal deficit is a top priority.
“17 and a half trillion (dollars) is outrageous,” Bishop told an audience during a Republican debate in Howell last month, “And it’s outrageous not just to our generation but to future generations.”
Bishop points his time as Senate Majority leader and his dealings for former Governor Jennifer Granholm as an example of how he can deal with budget deficits.
Tom McMillin looks at that time differently. He points to the 2007 state government shutdown, which was ended after the state senate voted to increase Michigan’s income tax rate to raise revenue.
“I would certainly not solve a shutdown by allowing a huge 22% percent surcharge tax increase like my opponent did after a mere 8 hours,” McMillin says.
Matt Grossman is the director at Michigan State University’s Michigan Policy Network. He says the Republican race in the 8th district is following “the new national model” for a GOP primary.
“Which is that you have candidates competing over the ‘Conservative label’ and finding places where they have been ‘out of step’ with the conservative majority and challenging them on those grounds,” says Grossman.
Grossman says the 8th congressional district leans Republican. But unlike the rest of Michigan’s gerrymandered districts, he says there is a slight chance voters there will switch parties in November.
That hope has four candidates vying for the Democratic Party nomination.
Ingham County Treasurer Eric Schertzing, Central Michigan University State University Professor Susan Grettenberger, Former State Demographer Ken Darga and Attorney Jeffrey Hank have been campaigning for the nomination.
Darga is a trained economist. He says he’s tired of Congress doing “economics backwards.”
Grettenberger says she’s running for the Congress for what she calls “the 4 E’s”: Economy, Education, Environment and Equality.
Hank says he wants to lead an “American renaissance”.
Schertzing says he’s worked with all sides to improve the lives of people in mid-Michigan. He says Washington needs an innovative, common sense, problem solving approach rather than “partisan-bickering.”
MSU political scientist Matt Grossman expects Schertzing’s name recognition, after 14 years as Ingham County Treasurer and land bank head, gives him an edge in the Democratic primary.
Grossman says the Democrats’ hopes for November may hinge on who wins the GOP primary.
“If McMillin were to win, that might change how the Democrats view the race. Certainly, they would view it as more winnable. And they might be right about that. So they would spend more on the race and try to win it,” says Grossman, “I don’t think they’d have the same impression if Bishop were to run (as the GOP candidate in November).”
Money is an issue in the 8th district.
The late start many candidates faced after Roger’s surprise retirement announcement showed up in their recent Campaign Finance reports.
Republican Mike Bishop has raised less than $350,000 during his brief campaign. But that’s still almost double fellow Republican Tom McMillin’s campaign warchest. Democrat Eric Schertzing collected less than $150,000, which is still more than the rest of the Democratic field combined.
Grossman expects the money will come rolling in after the primary, especially if national Democrats believe there’s a chance to steal the seat from the Republican column and from national Republicans if they fear the same.