The 8th Congressional District GOP forum: A remarkable event with very unremarkable candidates

The five announced Republican candidates in the 8th Congressional District gathered for a candidate forum last Thursday evening at the Crystal Gardens Banquet Center in Genoa Township, and it was something to see.

It was a truly remarkable event, in that we’ve never seen a political debate like that in Livingston County before. In terms of attendance and energy, it was incredible.

I’ve been to one or two political events and debates in Livingston County in my time, so it takes a lot to impress me. This one impressed me.

There were about 500 people in attendance – for a primary debate in February – and it seems that the vast majority of them weren’t attached to any of the candidates. They were just highly energized, highly motivated, highly Republican voters.

And here’s the other remarkable thing – the candidates they came to see were all highly unremarkable.

As in, it would appear right now that none of them have a chance in hell of beating the highly vulnerable Democratic incumbent, U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin.

So I’ll say it again: If the Republicans don’t find another, more viable candidate, in the 8th Congressional District, then Elissa Slotkin is going to coast to victory in November.

On paper, she should be one of the most vulnerable Congressional incumbents in the country. Her district went for President Trump in 2016 by almost 7 points. A new analysis shows she votes with Trump a lot less than Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (and the other members of the Squad) does, which is going to make it much easier for the GOP to make the case that she’s out of touch with the district.

On top of that, she’s very likely going to be running for re-election with a socialist at the top of the Democratic ticket. I’m guessing socialism doesn’t poll well in the 8th Congressional District.

So even though she’s been working VERY hard in Livingston County and throughout the district, by every measure, Slotkin should be in huge trouble in 2020.

Instead, she’s facing a Republican field that’s incredibly flawed in every way. They either can’t raise money, they have no ties to the community or they’re way over their heads when it comes to discussing policy.

So this is where we’re at. If another candidate doesn’t get in the race, the Republicans are going to blow a golden chance to flip this seat.

Back to the candidate forum which took place on Thursday evening. As I said, as political events go, it was truly remarkable.

The forum was sponsored by the Livingston County Republican Party and Protect Our Republic, and even though it was a Congressional candidate forum, it had the look and feel of a Trump rally. Trump hats and signs were everywhere, and every time the president’s name was mentioned, the crowd went wild. REALLY wild.

The candidates knew this, too. Anytime they wanted to get some applause, all they needed to do was mention Trump’s name. Which they did. A lot.

And then you had the candidates.

The five people currently in the field are Mike Detmer, Alan Hoover, Paul Junge, Kristina Lyke and Nikki Snyder. In terms of the issues, they were all 100 percent in lockstep agreement on everything.

They’re all conservative, pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, pro-veteran, anti-Medicare-for-All, anti-Sanctuary City and pro-Trump. At the forum, there was not one bit of disagreement on any issue. It was, for the most part, a contest to see which of them could be the MOST pro-life, MOST pro-Second Amendment and MOST pro-Trump.

That’s how primary debates usually shake out on both sides of the aisle, so if you were a conservative Republican and you went to Thursday’s event looking for a candidate who agrees with you on the issues, you found five of them.

But elections are not won solely based on that. When you’re running for any office – most especially the U.S. House of Representatives – you need a few other things.

You need to be able to discuss policy on a very high level.

You need to be well-known and well-connected in the community.

You need to be charismatic and outgoing, and you need to be able to inspire people to want to work on your campaign.

You need to be able to raise money. You need to be able to raise a LOT of money.

And as we saw on Thursday night in brutal detail, that’s where things fall apart with this Republican field. We already knew that most of them can’t raise money (all but Paul Junge, who is largely self-funding his campaign). Their other flaws came into view on Thursday night.

Kristina Lyke

Kristina Lyke is an attorney who grew up in Pinckney, lives in Fowlerville and practices law in Ingham County. She’s the only one of the five with deep ties to Livingston County, but unfortunately, she showed almost no ability to discuss policy on a deeper level. And she’s only raised $5,918.

Alan Hoover

Alan Hoover of Ortonville is a former Marine gunnery sergeant who acts like a Marine gunnery sergeant. Gunnery sergeants are always called “Gunny,” and Hoover was constantly referring to himself this way in the third person. (As in, “Gunny loves guns!” “You need to send Gunny to Congress!”) It was endearing, but he also showed throughout the forum that he’s not ready to debate or discuss policy on the big stage. He’s also only raised $1,310.

Nikki Snyder

Nikki Snyder has the most impressive resumé of the bunch. She’s a registered nurse and a member of the State Board of Education, so she has some bonafides when it comes to discussing health care and education. And at the forum, she had some of the best moments of the night, particularly when she was discussing her pro-life position and her opposition to Medicare for All (she pointed out that Bernie Sanders might not have survived Bernie Sanders’ health-care plan, because he likely would have had to wait three days for the heart procedure he needed to save his life).

But Snyder has several big problems. For one, she doesn’t appear to have inspired any army of people to campaign for her. She got almost no applause when she was introduced at the forum, which is always a sign of how many people each candidate has in the audience.

For another, she’s showed no ability to raise money (only $1,916). And for a third, she doesn’t even live in the 8th Congressional District. That might be a big issue with some voters.

Paul Junge

Paul Junge has an interesting background. He was a news anchor for a Lansing TV station about 18 years ago, he was a former prosecutor and he briefly worked in media relations for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. As he pointed out several times at the forum, he’s the only candidate who has raised any money at all – about $275,000.

But when you delve into those numbers, you see that a good chunk of that money came from himself, and most of the rest of it came from people in California.

And that’s the main problem with Junge. He’s from California, not Michigan. He only moved to Brighton last year, and the fear is that he only moved here to run for Congress. Like any newcomer, he doesn’t really know anyone here and has absolutely no ties to the community. He’s not exactly Mike Rogers.

His recent disastrous appearance at the Livingston Sunrise Rotary Club meeting didn’t help him, either. He’s already burning bridges in Livingston County, so it’s hard to see how he’s going to generate the support he’d need to win the race.

Mike Detmer

Mike Detmer, meanwhile, made perhaps the biggest splash on Thursday night – and not always in a good way.

Detmer is originally from Rochester and he’s lived in Howell for five years, so he does have some ties to the community. He ran for state representative in Rochester back in 1998, when he was in his early 20’s, finishing a distant fourth in a five-person Republican primary. He’s lived in Kansas and Florida for much of his adult life.

Give Detmer credit for this: He had far and away the biggest contingent of supporters in the audience on Thursday night. So he at least checks that box.

Based on his social media activity and his behavior on Thursday night, Detmer has also established himself as the bomb-throwing attack-the-other-candidates member of the group. He had already gone after Nikki Snyder on social media, and on Thursday night, he launched an attack on Paul Junge, too.

After Junge pointed out that he was the only one who had raised any money in the race, Detmer – who has only raised $3,685 himself – lit into Junge.

“But to say that ‘I’m the best candidate for the job’ because you raised $275,000, when $150,000 was your own money, and the rest was front-loaded from family and friends and business associates in California? You don’t own a home, you don’t have a business, you don’t work here, you don’t have a stake here – is to me, absurd.”

And then he followed it with this:

“Whichever one of us wins this primary, will have all the money they need coming in from the national party and the state party and big donors to defeat Elissa Slotkin.”

I hate to break it to him, but that’s not the way it works. People running for Congress have to raise money themselves. Every. Single. Time. The Republican Party and the “big donors” are not going to say, “Hey, Mike, don’t worry about raising any money yourself – we’ve got you covered.”

If you can’t raise money, you aren’t a viable candidate for Congress. Period. No matter who you are, you need to raise money yourself.

Mitch McConnell has to raise money. Lindsay Graham has to raise money. Every Republican in Washington has to raise money. Every last one. Why in the world would Mike Detmer of all people think they’re going to let him off the hook when it comes to that?

Which brings us back to where we started. On Thursday night, a whole bunch of very energized Republicans packed Crystal Gardens looking for hope. They didn’t get it.

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