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The 6 most interesting Michigan races to watch in Tuesday’s primary

Rep. Rashida Tlaib is facing off against a Democratic primary challenger on Tuesday.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) speaks at the opening plenary session of the NAACP 110th National Convention at COBO Center on July 22, 2019, in Detroit, Michigan.
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

After its surprise swing for President Donald Trump in 2016, Michigan will be one of the most highly watched states in the 2020 election.

Though the biggest question on everyone’s mind is whether Democrat Joe Biden can reclaim this Midwestern state, Michigan is boasting a number of other competitive races in November, including Sen. Gary Peters’s (D) bid for reelection and a slew of House races flipped by moderate Democratic candidates in 2018.

Right now, the polls for Biden and the Democrats look pretty good. The RealClearPolitics and FiveThirtyEight polling averages for the state both show Biden leading Trump by about eight points.

“Michigan is moving out of the very top tier of swing states,” Michigan State University political scientist Matt Grossman told Vox.

Numerous members of the House from Michigan, including Reps. Debbie Dingell and Elissa Slotkin, have cautioned Democrats to not get too comfortable, but Trump’s campaign has temporarily stopped putting up television ads in the state — ceding valuable airtime to Biden.

“Trump is in much worse condition now than he was” even in 2018, said longtime Michigan pollster Bernie Porn, president of EPIC-MRA polling. Coronavirus and the lasting economic decline are driving the drop, Porn noted, adding the president’s aggression toward nationwide protesters hasn’t helped him in Michigan.

Trump’s performance in November could have big implications for down-ballot races in the state as well, including Peters’s competitive Senate race and freshman Reps. Elissa Slotkin and Haley Stevens’s attempt to keep swing districts blue. If Trump has a weak result in Michigan, it could impact the entire GOP ticket.

While Michigan’s Senate race is a big draw for November, it’s less exciting on Tuesday; both Peters and Republican John James are running unopposed. But there are a number of primaries for US House races, including a Democratic primary opponent challenging outspoken progressive Rep. Rashida Tlaib, and Democratic and Republican primaries to replace outgoing libertarian Rep. Justin Amash.

Michigan polls will close at 9 pm ET, and Vox will have live results powered by our partners at Decision Desk. Until then, here’s what you need to know about the most important races.

Michigan US Senate race

The Michigan Senate race will be pretty quiet on Tuesday, but it will be an important one to watch in the fall. Michigan is one of just two opportunities Senate Republicans have to flip a Democratic seat. Still, actually beating incumbent Sen. Gary Peters could be much easier said than done.

This year, Peters will face Army veteran and businessman John James, who ran against Peters’s fellow Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) in 2018 and lost — albeit narrowly.

Peters was first elected to the US Senate in 2014, after a tenure in the US House of Representatives. Peters is certainly not known for seeking the spotlight; he keeps a relatively low media profile, and polling reveals a sizable chunk of Michigan voters don’t recognize him.

“Peters is the sort of least-known of the incumbents running for reelection; he just doesn’t have much of an image,” said Grossman. “Other than Alabama, it’s the Republicans best offense.”

But the booming economy hoped for by James and other Republican candidates who tied themselves close to Trump has evaporated. Even though James has out-fundraised the incumbent, Peters has a healthy lead in the polls. The Peters campaign in particular has gone after James for his past statements in favor of defunding the Affordable Care Act, and James has softened his rhetoric on the issue.

“Peters is running well among independents, getting 67 percent of the independent vote,” Porn told Vox. As for James, “Right now in his messaging, he’s trying to erase association with Trump.”

Michigan’s Third Congressional District

Libertarian and outspoken Trump critic Rep. Justin Amash was first elected to represent the Third Congressional District in 2010. After switching his party from Republican to independent in 2019 (before switching to the Libertarian Party), Amash announced he was stepping down.

Amash’s departure has set up a competitive Republican primary to replace him. The GOP contenders on Tuesday include Iraq War veteran Peter Meijer, state Rep. Lynn Afendoulis, veteran Tom Norton, entrepreneur Joe Farrington, and attorney Emily Rafi. Meijer has the most money and national backing, including from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R). But Meijer’s opponents have also attempted to paint him as not friendly enough to Trump, according to local news site MLive. Whether that hurts Meijer or helps him in an uncertain political environment for the president remains to be seen.

The winner will face Democrat Hillary Scholten, an immigration attorney who is running unopposed. Scholten has outraised her Republican opponents, a promising sign that the race could be competitive. This district tends to be Republican, and Cook Political Report rates it Lean Republican, but Democrats are very much hoping to put it in play in the fall.

Michigan’s Eighth Congressional District

A field of Republicans is squaring off to see who will challenge Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D), the moderate Democrat who flipped the district in 2018. The Eighth Congressional District encompasses parts of Lansing and its suburbs, and Trump won it in 2016 before Slotkin beat Republican Rep. Mike Bishop in 2018.

Bishop is not attempting to reclaim his old seat; the Republican candidates vying in Tuesday’s primary include former attorney Paul Junge, attorney Kristina Lyke, and businessman and veteran Alan Hoover. Still, Slotkin has the backing of the Democratic party and significant fundraising. A former CIA analyst, Slotkin was one of a number of women with backgrounds in the military or US intelligence to be elected to Congress in 2018.

Michigan’s 10th Congressional District

With incumbent Rep. Paul Mitchell (R) retiring this year, this district that sits on Michigan’s Lower Peninsula (the so-called “thumb” of the mitt-shaped state) is open. Republicans hoping to replace Mitchell include state Rep. Shane Hernandez, businesswoman Lisa McClain, and retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Doug Slocum. Democrats Kimberly Bizon, the 2018 nominee, and Army nurse Kelly Noland are also running. This district is rated Solid Republican by Cook, so whoever wins the Republican primary will likely win the seat in November.

Michigan’s 11th Congressional District

Republicans are also gearing up to face first-term Rep. Haley Stevens (D). Like Slotkin, Stevens flipped this formerly Republican-held district in 2018, beating Rep. Lena Epstein (R). The district, which sits in Detroit suburbs, narrowly went for Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

Epstein is forgoing a rematch in 2020, leaving the competition to Republicans like lawyer Eric Esshaki, former fashion designer Carmelita Greco, director of diversity for the district’s GOP Committee Whittney Williams, businessman Frank Acosta, and former Rep. Kerry Bentivolio.

Most of the Republicans running on Tuesday have little political experience. Although the 11th Congressional District was considered very competitive in 2018, Cook Political Report has moved it to Lean Democratic in 2020. Stevens has done a lot of fundraising and has the full support of the Democratic party.

Michigan’s 13th Congressional District

Unabashed progressive and member of “The Squad” Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D) is up for reelection in 2020. In this safely Democratic district, her primary face-off against Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones — an influential Detroit politician whom Tlaib had run against in the past — will be where the action is. Jones won a 2018 special election to replace the district’s former longtime Rep. John Conyers, who resigned in 2017. But Tlaib narrowly edged out Jones in the August 2018 primary election and prevailed in November, even after Jones launched a write-in campaign.

Even though she has been critical of House Democratic leadership in the past, Tlaib recently secured House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s endorsement.

“Rep. Rashida Tlaib is a tireless advocate for the residents of Michigan’s 13th Congressional District,” Pelosi said in a statement. “Her leadership has secured critical funding to stop water shutoffs and replace lead pipes.”

Tlaib has an advantage as the incumbent, but she and Jones have been in close matchups before. This race will be one to watch.

Correction: Donald Trump won Michigan’s 11th Congressional District in 2016. An earlier version of this piece stated Hillary Clinton had won the district.

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