Lansing, Michigan. (AP) – Just three months ago, Representative Alyssa Slotkin was one of the most vulnerable Democrats in Washington, fighting a costly campaign for reelection in a Michigan district that Republicans were confident they could win again.
All that was a distant memory when Slotkin sat smiling next to Sen. Debbie Stabenow at a Lansing luncheon in memory of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. recently. Michigan Democrats, whose Senate seat is suddenly open after the four-term senator announced plans to retire.
“She knows what it takes to win and she doesn’t let her seat spin when she leaves,” Slotkin said of Stabenow in an interview. “She feels, I think, very connected to making sure that her legacy is upheld by passing the torch on to someone who wins.”
In what is fast emerging as one of the most closely watched Senate races of the 2024 campaign, Slotkin is aggressively acting on Stabenow’s call for “the next generation of leadership.” The 46-year-old former CIA intelligence officer is taking steps to prepare for a Senate run, including forming a national campaign team, according to a close congressional aide who requested anonymity to discuss the plan.
In interviews, Slotkin nodded to the plans, adding that she was keeping her “ducks in a row” before an announcement.
Slotkin will almost certainly face competition from fellow Democrats in one of the most politically competitive states in America. The eventual winner of next year’s primary will be key in the party’s effort to retain the Senate, where Democrats hold a one-seat majority and face. Tough headwinds as defenses of seats loom in Republican-leaning states from West Virginia to Montana and Ohio.
But Slotkin is gaining notice as someone who could help bring about a generational change on Capitol Hill in a party that has been dominated by those several decades his senior. And his margin of victory last year can assure that he is gearing up for another tough campaign.
Michigan Democratic strategist Amy Chapman, who was Barack Obama’s state director in 2008, said in assessing Slotkin’s primary prospects, “Extremely hard worker. Great fundraiser. Runs in tough elections. I think he’s the very top candidate.” But it will.” Chapman is neutral in the Senate primary.
Slotkin’s potential Democratic rivals include Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, Reps. Debbie Dingell and Haley Stevens, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and state Sen. Mallory McMorrow. Only one Michigan Republican has held a seat in the Senate in the past 40 years, Spencer Abraham, from 1995 to 2001. He was defeated for reelection by Stabenow.
Many potential contenders have their own unique backgrounds that may set them apart in the primary.
Gilchrist is the only Black party prospect in a state where the Detroit area accounts for half of the statewide vote. Benson won in November by a wider margin than Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who left for a second term. McMorrow made a national name for herself last year with an impassioned speech opposing the banning of race- and gender-related topics in schools. Dingell, whose late husband, John, was the longest-serving House member ever, represents suburban Detroit.
But for now, Slotkin appears to be acting most aggressively in light of Stabenow’s Jan. 5 retirement announcement, which surprised much of the Michigan Democratic establishment.
Slotkin used his regular internal political meeting that day to begin discussing the move in private, according to a person with knowledge of the conversation who requested anonymity to discuss the plan. Since then, she has spoken to state and local Michigan Democratic elected officials and been in contact with donors inside and outside Michigan who have helped establish her as one of the top campaign fundraisers for the US House .
Slotkin raised $10 million for his 2022 campaign, second only to Representative Katie Porter of California among Democrats targeted.
Slotkin was elected in 2018 by narrowly defeating two-term Republican Rep. Mike Bishop in a longtime Republican-leaning district. She also became Stabenow’s congresswoman, representing the senator’s house in Lansing.
Slotkin said Stabenow, 72, who represented the Lansing area in the House for four years before running for Senate, took the junior Democrat under his wing on the campaign trail, guiding them to influential activists and groups. According to Slotkin, their relationship has remained strong ever since.
Slotkin said, “Sometimes she’d let me borrow her little hidden office near the House floor if I had votes until two in the morning.”
Stabenow has given no indication that he plans to endorse the many prospects seeking to succeed him, leaving several relative newcomers to the list. “I’m really excited about the opportunity for the next generation of leadership,” she said in an interview.
After Slotkin narrowly won in 2020, the new congressional map splits her home in Holly, northeast of Lansing, from the state capitol, the population center of her district and her Democratic voting base. Upon moving to Lansing to run in Michigan’s new 7th District, Slotkin was seen as vulnerable by Republicans because she would be new to nearly a third of the district’s voters, many in rural GOP-leaning north of Lansing.
Democrat Joe Biden also narrowly won in the new configuration, leading Republican House strategists to hope that Biden’s low job approvals last year would help overwhelm weak House Democrats.
Instead, Slotkin defeated Republican state Sen. Tom Barrett in a race in which the two parties combined spent more than $40 million, making it the third most expensive House race in 2022.
“She has spent millions and millions of dollars to increase her positive name ID in the current iteration and prior iterations of her congressional district,” said Adrian Hammond, a Democratic political strategist. “That’s why you have to call Slotkin the favorite.”
Slotkin, however, is little known among Michigan’s black voters, who make up about 78 percent of Detroit’s population, according to the 2020 U.S. Census.
Although he has advertised on Detroit television during his campaigns, he has never represented Detroit or an area with a large black population like Flint.
Alexis Wiley, former chief of staff to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, said, “I believe he has his work cut out for him in the black community in Detroit.” “I don’t think you can overstate the uphill battle out there.”
Slotkin entered Congress alongside nationally recognized newcomers such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, who clashed openly with then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He built a reputation in the House for being quietly assertive, though outspoken when necessary, said Cindy Axne, a former Iowa representative who entered Congress with Slotkin and called him a friend.
“There’s nobody better about policy than Alyssa Slotkin that I know of,” Axane said.
Last week, Slotkin traveled outside his district to Detroit and Grand Rapids, Michigan’s two largest cities, to participate in events celebrating King’s birthday with black leaders.
This was what she called part of an effort to “talk to opinion leaders” and “see what they think”, although she stopped short of suggesting a time frame for an announcement.
Ever the strategist, he said “first movers are important in politics,” but it also “winds against preparation and systematic planning.”
“I could have made an announcement, but then I didn’t have the team,” she said. “So, I want to get it right.”