Dem-on-Dem primary in Michigan raises party blood pressure

With the majority of Democrats hanging in a handful of districts, several even argued that picking Levin could help seal their party’s fate in November.

“We need this seat,” said Rep. Ann Kuster (DN.H.), who added that she personally urged Levin not to fight Stevens and instead run in the toughest seat. “He has a household name, he has the most voters in this district, and all he had to do was work hard, roll up his sleeves. Why work hard against a colleague?

It’s not just Democrats who think Levin had a chance. GOP groups previously have undisclosed polls that show the Michigan Democrat could have been competitive in the state’s new 10th district, according to several people familiar with the internal discussions. The seat includes about two-thirds of Levin’s current voters, though he also clawed back significantly more ground from the GOP — which Levin and his supporters say made it impossible for him to compete there.

Members of Michigan’s congressional delegation mostly declined to discuss the member-to-member primary in public. Retired Representative Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) is the only member of the delegation to choose a side.

representing Elissa Slotkin, another Michigan Democrat, said she was not weighing in on the primary. But she acknowledged that she saw Levin as a viable candidate.

“I think a starter would definitely have had a good shot against Mr. James,” Slotkin said. “There is no doubt, it’s a swing district, a tough district. But it’s a tough neighborhood for both sides.

Levin and his allies, however, said he never had a real chance of winning the new seat, which covers territory former President Donald Trump won by nearly a full percentage point in 2020. As a vocal progressive, Levin said his natural choice was to run in the new, bluer 11th arrondissement; this includes his hometown of Bloomfield and the town where he and generations of his family grew up.

“I’m running where I live and I’m very happy with this decision, with no regrets,” Levin said in an interview, saying he would win the primary and then help the party retain the Macomb County seat.

Asked about calls from several of his colleagues to run into the battlefield seat instead, Levin said: “I’m grateful that people think I can do something, but I’m pretty sure of the best strategy. .”

“It’s a very different district,” Levin said, pointing to the influx of new GOP voters. “I’m very tuned into Macomb County politics, way more than the people you talk to. I have a real idea of ​​how we can win there. And I’m determined that we win.

Levin added that as a longtime representative for Macomb County, he has spoken to all Democrats who are running or have considered running for the new seat. It is also coordinated with the party’s campaign arm on recruitment.

So far, however, some Democrats have worried about their bench in that 10th District seat, even with five candidates currently in the running.

Among the most high-profile candidates is former judge Carl Marlinga — who faced federal corruption charges two decades ago, though they were later dropped. Earlier this year, National Democrats even turned to former GOP Mayor Michael Taylor, who chose not to run. Last month, a former state deputy and ex-firefighter Henry Yanez entered the race, after a major local recruitment.

GOP campaign workers, meanwhile, are upbeat about James, who is a former Army ranger turned businessman. James has already lost two Senate bids, losing Macomb County in 2018 while winning it in 2020. But some Democrats fear he may have a better chance in the new iteration of that district.

And James’ candidacy is a key part of why many Democrats pushed so hard for Levin. They argue he would potentially have more recognition than James, the Senate candidate who lost twice, given his family’s dynastic status in Michigan politics.

Both Levin and Stevens were elected in the 2018 Democratic wave. Stevens flipped a red seat after GOP Rep. Dave Trott retired, while Levin replaced his father, former Rep. Sander Levin, who took his retirement after 18 terms. Levin’s uncle also represented the state in the House, making the couple the longest-serving sibling in Congressional history.

“I think his name made him the most competitive. He and his family represented Macomb County for decades. said Lawrence, who retired after his own district was redrawn this cycle. Lawrence, like Kuster, endorsed Stevens in the primary.

Other senior Democrats, including progressives, also said Levin had a chance to make a huge claim as he overcame the odds of winning the 11th District: If he could hold it, he could prove the long-standing argument. of the left that their politics are acceptable in competition for places.

Levins’ supporters, however, strongly pushed back against the idea that he could win the race, as his house was no longer in the neighborhood, even as they said other party members still could. Other longtime observers of Michigan politics went further, saying in interviews that victory could be tough for any Democrat.

David Mermin, a partner at Lake Research Partners, who conducted the poll on Levin’s behalf, said the new district “just doesn’t look promising” for Democrats: “You need a Democrat Macomb County type”.

Jim Jacobs, who recently retired as president of Macomb Community College and has strong ties to the area, added that “it will be extremely difficult for any Democrat to win the county.”

Democrats’ anxiety over the races in Michigan’s 10th and 11th districts is compounded by growing fears across the party that its fragile majority could be wiped out in November. In recent days alone, the party has suffered redistricting losses, while Biden’s approval rating has continued to decline.

And Michigan, often seen as a critical barometer of the political climate, is being watched even more closely this year as it loses a seat entirely in the redistricting.

While member-to-member primaries are always bittersweet, this one became particularly nasty as major caucus factions voted for opposing candidates. The progressive congressional caucus backs Levin, while Stevens has won support from his own moderate New Democrat coalition as well as the leader of the Congressional Black Caucus. Levin also has four committee chairs in his favor.

Whichever Democrat wins the primary will be heavily favored in the general election; President Joe Biden won the new 11th District by 20 percentage points.

Battleground Democrats are particularly angered by Levin’s choice to compete with Stevens, saying they see it as some sort of political duty for him to run in the tougher 10th District. His decision to challenge a fellow Democrat not only means the party faces tougher odds of retaining the seat, it also means more resources being spent on fellow Democrats as they struggle to hold the House.

representing Cindy Axne (D-Iowa), who faces another tough re-election fight this fall, recently made a similar case to Levin on the House floor — an exchange that several people who watched him described as tense.

People who witnessed the exchange described it this way: Axne called out Levin for running Facebook ads that invited donations to his campaign to help save the House.

If he cared to protect the majority, Axne added, he would have run in the 10th District.

Nicholas Wu and Ally Mutnick contributed to this report.


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