Veteran legislator Debbie Stabenow won reelection to a fourth term Tuesday night, the conclusion of a Senate campaign that ended up being a lot less interesting than it initially seemed like it might be.
Donald Trump shocked the world — and certainly the Democratic Party — by narrowly carrying Michigan in 2016 after slumping African-American turnout and defections from white working-class voters. That made Stabenow a natural target in 2018, and Kid Rock spent much of 2017 threatening to challenge her as part of what seemed like it could be a larger Trumpification of American politics.
Instead, that turned out to be a mere publicity stunt (as many initially, and wrongly, thought Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign would be), and Stabenow wound up facing off against John James, a 37-year-old African-American business leader and first-time candidate who’d probably be a formidable contender for a lower office but didn’t qualify as a top-tier recruit for a statewide race. James was, indeed, sufficiently obscure that Rudy Giuliani mistakenly endorsed “Don James” in the final week of the campaign.
On top of relatively weak opposition, Stabenow’s fortunes were lifted not just by a strong national political environment for Democrats but by a particularly strong local political environment in Michigan.
Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic nominee, spent the entire campaign with a prohibitive lead over her opponent in the gubernatorial race, and the incumbent Republican governor refused to endorse GOP nominee Bill Schuette. Amid the general atmosphere of chaos in the state party, Stabenow ended up largely cruising to victory, running plenty of ads highlighting her day-to-day work on relatively uncontroversial topics like VA clinics, funding for Alzheimer’s research, and bolstering of Michigan agriculture.
Stabenow’s victory, though not a huge shock, is — along with other Democratic wins in the Rust Belt — a confirmation that Trump’s narrow wins in the Midwest may have been more of a one-off than a realignment in the making.