So now we know that the legislative districts we’ll have in the 2020 election will be the same ones we had in the 2018 election.
What does that mean for Livingston County? It means we should be finding out very soon which Republican will be running against U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly, next year. And I’m about to tell you who I think that will be.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision today that the courts can’t force a state to redraw its legislative boundaries, no matter how badly gerrymandered they might be. And while the court’s decision only dealt with cases in North Carolina and Maryland, it will have effect everywhere.
Including Michigan. Earlier this year, a three-judge federal panel ruled that some of Michigan’s legislative districts were so badly gerrymandered that they’d have to be redrawn in time for the 2020 election.
The Supreme Court’s decision effectively reversed that decision. It was a huge win for Michigan Republicans – since the current districts were drawn up by Republicans – and it means we’ll have the same districts in 2020 that we had in 2018. We’ll see brand-new districts in 2022 (following the 2020 census), but for next year, everything stays the same.
What does that mean for those of us in Livingston County? A lot, but the biggest impact is that we’ll soon know who will be running against Congresswoman Slotkin.
First, some background.
Livingston County is part of the 8th Congressional District, which is made up of three very distinct areas which have almost nothing in common:
- Ingham County – which includes Lansing, East Lansing and Michigan State University – is the largest part of the district and is overwhelmingly liberal and Democratic. Very blue.
- Livingston County, still one of the fastest-growing counties in Michigan and one of the most solidly Republican. We are very, very, very red.
- Northern Oakland County, which leans Republican, but not as much as Livingston County does. Fairly red.
Got that? You’ve got hugely Democratic Ingham County, hugely Republican Livingston County and fairly Republican northern Oakland County.
Until 2018, the district had been in Republican hands for almost 20 years. Republican Mike Rogers of Brighton won the seat in 2000, and when he stepped down in 2014, he was succeeded by Republican Mike Bishop of Rochester Hills.
Bishop held the seat for four years, but was defeated by Democrat Elissa Slotkin as part of the “blue wave” of 2018. Slotkin was born in New York City, went to college at Cornell and Columbia and spent most of her adult life working in Washington, D.C., most recently as Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs. But she grew up in Holly, and when the national Democrats convinced her to move back to Michigan to run for Bishop’s seat, it turned out to be a home-run recruitment.
Democrats in Livingston County have been understandably giddy about Slotkin ever since. You can’t blame them. Aside from U.S. Senators, Livingston County hasn’t been represented by a Democrat in either Lansing or Washington since the late 1990s, when Debbie Stabenow gave up her Congressional seat to run for the Senate.
Livingston County’s Democrats absolutely love Slotkin, and were we to poll them, they would undoubtedly agree that even though she’s only been in office for about six months, we should all just agree that she’s the best Congressperson we’ve ever had, and the Republicans shouldn’t even bother to put someone on the ballot in 2020.
The Republicans, alas, would not concur. They view this seat as merely a two-year rental by the Democrats, and they can’t wait to get it back. They point to what happened in the 2008 election, when Democrat Mark Schauer won a solidly Republican Congressional seat in southern Michigan in the Obama wave year, and then promptly lost it back to Republican Tim Walberg when the district returned to its GOP roots in 2010.
Republicans see the same thing happening in the 8th Congressional District next year, and the numbers are probably on their side. Despite Slotkin’s win, the 8th is still designed to be a Republican-leaning district. The Cook Partisan Voting Index says it leans Republican by 4 points.
So Slotkin has her hands full if she wants to hold onto the seat in 2020, and the pundits agree. The Cook Political Report ranks it as one of just 21 Congressional seats nationally that are true toss-ups for next year. That means we can expect both parties to pour a ton of money into this race next year. The Republicans will be desperate to get this seat back, and the Democrats will be desperate to keep it, so politically, we’re going to be ground zero around here.
Which brings us to the Supreme Court’s gerrymandering decision. Why does that impact who Slotkin’s Republican challenger will be in 2020?
Because until today, nobody knew what the 8th Congressional District was going to look like, so nobody wanted to announce. Now that we know the district lines won’t be changing, we can expect a Republican challenger to come forward soon.
Full disclosure: I’m a former Republican state rep candidate and I personally know a lot of the Republicans I’m about to name, but I haven’t talked to any of these people about this. So what I’m about to tell you is just pure speculation, not insider information.
As I see it, here are the 8th Congressional District Republican possibilities for 2020:
Former U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop, who lost his job to Slotkin in 2018. He lives in northern Oakland County, and I’m guessing he was very, very interested to see what the Supreme Court did, because had the 8th District been redrawn for 2020, he most likely would have been thrown into another district.
State Sen. Lana Theis of Brighton Township, who is the dream candidate for the Republicans on many fronts. She’s whip-smart, she does great in debates, she’s a policy wonk, she’s seen as a rising star in Lansing, she’s personable and she’s the same gender as Slotkin. She also wouldn’t have to give up her Senate seat to run for Congress (the Senate isn’t up for election until 2022).
Former State Sen. Joe Hune, R-Fowlerville. He was term-limited out of office in 2018, giving way to Theis, and as far as I know, hasn’t taken a new job yet. Could he be waiting for this?
State Board of Education member Tom McMillin, a super-conservative former state legislator who ran against Bishop in the 2014 Republican primary. He ran for this seat before, and he might want to do it again.
Former U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Brighton. Former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee until he made the surprise decision in 2014 to retire from Congress. He’s been doing some TV work since then, but could he be enticed to get back in the game? He’s the best campaigner I’ve ever seen, and he never lost an election.
State Rep. Hank Vaupel, R-Fowlerville. He’s term-limited out from his current job in 2020, so he wouldn’t have to give up his seat to run. Highly respected in Lansing.
State Rep. Ann Bollin, R-Brighton Township. She’s only six months in her first term in Lansing, so it’s highly doubtful, but it’s still a possibility. She’s made a big impact in her first few months on the job.
There are probably some other possibilities from Oakland County, but I don’t know who they are.
So, which one will it be? Who will be Elissa Slotkin’s Republican challenger in 2020?
My best guess … Mike Bishop.
I’m guessing the national Republicans will try to convince Theis to take a long look at running, because as I said, she would be their dream candidate in almost every respect. (Lana’s a friend of mine, but I haven’t talked to her about this at all.) But her daughter just graduated high school and her son is still in school, so I don’t see her wanting to live in Washington right now.
Same with Joe Hune. He has a young child at home and I don’t see him wanting to live in D.C., either.
The other people on my list might take a look at it (and wouldn’t Mike Rogers vs. Elissa Slotkin be fun?), but in the end, we’ll most likely be seeing Slotkin vs. Bishop, Part II.
Should this come to pass, I won’t break my arm patting myself on the back, because pretty much everyone – including his former campaign manager – is saying that Bishop is the most likely contender. And he’s been giving every indication that he’s ready to jump back in.
So, if indeed it’s Mike Bishop vs. Elissa Slotkin once again, will he have a chance to regain his seat?
Absolutely. In fact, I’d say he’d be the slight favorite.
I didn’t know Bishop at all until last year, when I had the opportunity to meet him a couple times. And I came away extremely impressed. He’s smart, he’s focused and he’s very personable. (And I don’t just say this as a Republican, because I know a lot of Republicans who aren’t smart, aren’t focused and aren’t personable.)
But I’d say he’s a slight favorite because:
1. The district IS a base Republican district.
2. He obviously would have learned from his mistakes in 2018.
3. The national Republicans will dump a lot of money into the race to help him.
4. He’s remained active and involved in Livingston County, and Livingston County’s Republicans will be energized to turn out even greater support in 2020. They really, really want this seat back, and they know that the path to victory runs through Livingston County.
Likewise, Slotkin knows that her path to victory runs through heavily Democratic Ingham County.
I haven’t met Slotkin, but you can’t help but be impressed with what she’s done so far. She’s obviously extremely smart, and she’s taken great pains to be out and about in the community since taking office.
But it’s also interesting to see what steps she’s taken when it comes to Livingston County. I give her huge props for hiring former Democratic state rep candidate Mona Shand of Genoa Township as her Livingston County field rep. That was a no-brainer, and from what I can tell, Shand has done a great job getting Slotkin out and about in the community. I don’t know the rest of her staff, but I can’t imagine Slotkin has made a better hire.
On the flip side, though, Slotkin also made the decision to move her district office from Livingston County – which is in the middle of the 8th Congressional District – to Lansing, on the far western edge of the district. When Bishop was in office, he had his district office in Brighton.
Make no mistake, that was a political decision. Slotkin knows that her base is in Ingham County, and she needs Ingham County to come out BIG for her in the future, so she made the decision to move her office to Ingham County.
So it would seem that Slotkin has made the political calculus to put all (or almost all) of her chips in Ingham County’s basket.
And with the Supreme Court’s decision today, we should soon be finding out whose name will be on the other side of the ballot. Should be fun.