Michigan’s Democratic Senate primary no longer looks like a foregone conclusion
Pugh acknowledged to the Detroit News that she was in for a “tough race” as she prepares to do battle with the apparent frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, Rep. Elissa Slotkin, but insisted she was “up for it.” Her entry upends a narrative advanced by Stabenow and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer that Slotkin would enjoy a clear path to the general election thanks to their backstage maneuvering, which in March prompted Politico to conclude—prematurely, it seems—that the primary was “nearly over already.”
While it remains to be seen whether Pugh can in fact prevail, she brings a high profile to the contest. Pugh first earned an eight-year term on the eight-person education board by finishing first on the ballot in 2014. (The board’s members are elected statewide every two years in a contest where voters cast two votes and the top-two finishers are elected.) However, her most prominent role came when Flint Mayor Karen Warren appointed Pugh, who is a former official at the Saginaw County Department of Public Health, to serve as her chief public health adviser in 2016 as the city dealt with its water crisis.
Pugh stepped down from her position in Flint in 2019, and three years later, she once again placed first when she sought reelection to the Board of Education. Soon afterward, she was chosen by her colleagues to serve as the body’s president, but her name surfaced earlier this year for a much higher office following Stabenow’s retirement.
Pugh’s consideration of a Senate bid came at a time when, following Rep. Brenda Lawrence’s retirement early this year, there were no Black Democrats in Michigan’s congressional delegation for the first time since 1955. (Republican Rep. John James represents part of the Detroit suburbs.) “I think it would be a shame if we have not at least put some backing behind … a Black woman who would be in the U.S. Senate,” she told Politico, noting, “And there are none at this time.”
However, that changed earlier this month when former state Rep. Leslie Love launched her own campaign. Neither Pugh nor Love appears to have said anything publicly about the other’s campaign, though the Detroit-based Love also emphasized her desire to elect a candidate from southeastern Michigan. (Slotkin represents the Lansing area, while Pugh’s Saginaw home is located even further to the north.)
Actor Hill Harper, who is also Black, is eyeing the race as well, though Love alleged that “The Good Doctor” cast member “has never lived in Michigan and has no experience at all in politics or government” in comments to the Toledo Blade last month. (Harper, who met Barack Obama in law school and says he remains friends with the former president, bought a home in Detroit in 2018 and has said he’s raising his son there.)
Slotkin, who is white, has argued that she can appeal to Black voters. “All I can do is introduce myself to leaders in places like Detroit and Flint,” she said at her campaign kickoff in March, “and demonstrate that I care and I’m willing to fight on issues that are really important to people.” The field also includes Nasser Beydoun, a former head of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce who characterizes himself as a “moderate.”
One big question looming over the primary is whether any of Slotkin’s opponents can bring in enough money not just to compete with her in this expensive state but to establish themselves as her main rival. The congresswoman finished March with $2.3 million in the bank, and she proved during three competitive House campaigns that she can raise much more. New quarterly fundraising reports are due July 15.
● NV-Sen: Attorney April Becker, who was the 2022 GOP nominee against Rep. Susie Lee, this week announced she’d campaign for a seat on the Clark County Commission rather than take on Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen.
Becker this time is looking to unseat Commissioner Ross Miller, a former secretary of state and the son of former Gov. Bob Miller. The younger Miller’s promising political ascent was halted after the 2014 red wave helped Republican Adam Laxalt pull off an upset in the race for attorney general, but he returned to office six years later by beating Republican Stavros Anthony by 15 votes. (Anthony, who spread conspiracy theories about his defeat, won the lieutenant governor’s office in 2022.)
● UT-Sen: Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs on Tuesday became the first notable Utah Republican to announce an intra-party bid against Sen. Mitt Romney with a video pitching himself far to the right of the 2012 presidential nominee-turned-party heretic. Romney, for his part, is still keeping everyone guessing if he’ll actually seek a second term, and his team reiterated this week he will reach a “final decision in the coming months.”
Staggs argues that, while Romney promised to fight for a conservative agenda, “[T]he only thing I’ve seen him fight for are the establishment, wokeness, open borders, impeaching President Trump, and putting us even deeper into debt.” (Those statements are accompanied by several newspaper headlines about Romney, including one from The Salt Lake Tribune that reads, “MITT ROMNEY MARCHES IN BLACK LIVES MATTER PROTESTS IN WASHINGTON.” The mayor, after touting himself as a loyal conservative, unsubtly adds, “I’m not a career politician, or a Massachusetts millionaire.”
Staggs was elected in 2017 to lead Riverton, a Salt Lake City suburb of 45,000, and he made news early in the pandemic by telling police officers not to enforce Salt Lake County’s orders to limit public gatherings. He then sought to lead the county later in 2020 when he challenged appointed incumbent Jenny Wilson, who herself was Romney’s most recent Democratic opponent, but he lost 52-45. (Salt Lake County, which is a rare source of Democratic strength in this dark red state, favored Joe Biden 53-42.)
The only other serious Republican who has started raising money for a bid for Romney’s seat is state House Speaker Brad Wilson, who formed an exploratory committee last month and says he’ll make up his mind sometime in the fall. But several other Beehive State politicians haven’t closed the door on running including Attorney General Sean Reyes, Rep. Chris Stewart, and former Rep. Jason Chaffetz.
A crowded primary could make it difficult for anyone to win the plurality they’d need to beat Romney in the event he sought reelection, though Utah’s unusual ballot access laws may limit the number of people who actually appear on the ballot. The state allows candidates for Congress or governor to qualify either by turning in the requisite number of signatures or by competing at their party convention, though they’re free to try both.
Both methods carry risk. If one convention contender ends up taking more than 60% of the delegate vote, they would be the only candidate to reach the primary ballot. If, however, no one hits this threshold, then the two competitors left standing will advance to the primary. Convention participants have long tended to be much further to the right than overall primary voters, and Staggs says he’s a “big believer” in this system and will pursue this route.
Signature gathering, however, is also an onerous and unpredictable task even for well-funded candidates. Romney needed 28,000 petitions in 2018 and turned in 80,000, but even his team reportedly wasn’t sure that would be enough. “When we turned those 80,000 signatures in, I thought there was a chance we didn’t make it,” an unnamed source told Utah Policy two years later, “We were praying we would get 30% validated.” Those prayers were more than answered, though, as Romney ultimately got about 60% of his petitions accepted.
● WI-Sen: GOP Rep. Bryan Steil this week once again didn’t quite rule out the idea of taking on Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, though he doesn’t sound especially interested in going for it. “I’m not planning to run for the United States Senate,” he told Channel 3000, adding, “I think we have a lot of great candidates who will ultimately maybe make a decision to step up.”
● MO-Gov: State Sen. Bill Eigel, who earlier this month derailed several of his party’s major priorities during the final hours of the legislative session, told 97.1 FM on Monday he’d decide if he’d run for governor “before Labor Day.” Eigel, who formed an exploratory committee last year, added, “We’re going to come to a final decision … probably in the next 60 to 90 days.” (Labor Day is Sept. 4.)
● MS-Gov: Republican incumbent Tate Reeves’ team tells Politico they’re launching a $1.3 million opening ad campaign that will start next month and continue into July. The first ad is narrated by First Lady Elee Reeves, who tells the audience that the state “reopened fast” during the pandemic thanks to the governor.
Reeves’ Democratic opponent, Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley, quickly pointed out that the commercial featured footage from a now-closed private school founded by Nancy New, who pleaded guilty to her role in the state’s $77 million welfare funds scandal.
● DE-AL: An unnamed advisor for Sarah McBride, a Democrat who became the first trans person to win a seat in any state Senate chamber in America in 2020, tells Bloomberg she would be “quite likely” to run for the U.S. House in the event that Democratic Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester seeks the open Senate seat. National Journal also name-drops two other legislators who could seek the party’s nomination to replace Blunt Rochester: state Rep. Kerri Evelyn Harris, who challenged Sen. Tom Carper from the left in the 2018 primary, and state Sen. Elizabeth Lockman.
● NY-03: Unnamed Democratic sources tell Jewish Insider’s Matthew Kassel that former Rep. Tom Suozzi would probably only try to regain his old seat if there’s a special election to replace his scandal-ridden successor, Republican incumbent George Santos. It would be up to party leaders to pick the nominees in a special, and Kassel writes that Suozzi “is leaning toward accepting” the nod if it’s presented to him this way. If that special never happens, though, the story says the former congressman is “unlikely” to compete in the regular primary.
● NY-18: Alison Esposito, who was the GOP’s 2022 nominee for lieutenant governor, tells the New York Post she is indeed considering taking on Democratic Rep. Pat Ryan next year.
Mayors and County Leaders
● Denver, CO Mayor: The super PAC supporting former Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce CEO Kelly Brough has launched what appears to be the first negative TV ad of the entire race, a piece that argues former state Sen. Mike Johnston has “lied about his leadership.” But not only was Johnston quick to cry foul, local CBS political specialist Shaun Boyd went so far as to say that she wasn’t sure she’d seen a political spot “as botched as this.”
A Better Denver insists that Johnston, who is Brough’s foe in the June 6 general election, improperly claimed credit for the creation of a COVID testing program called COVIDCheck and a gun safety bill. Denverite, though, writes that Johnston actually did help start COVIDCheck when he was in charge of a nonprofit. While the super PAC declared that it altered the ad to change “the words ‘COVIDCheck’ to ‘built Colorado’s testing program,” Boyd responded that Johnston didn’t make this new claim. Several of Johnston’s former legislative colleagues, meanwhile, were quick to praise his work on the 2013 gun safety legislation.