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Why Michigan could see the biggest blue wave of all in the 2018 elections

Primary elections for Michigan’s governor, Senate, and House will be held on Tuesday.

Zac Freeland/Vox
Dylan Scott covers health care for Vox. He has reported on health policy for more than 10 years, writing for Governing magazine, Talking Points Memo and STAT before joining Vox in 2017.

In the 2018 midterm elections in Michigan, Democrats are in good shape to keep a Senate seat and retake the governor’s mansion — and the Wolverine State also gives them a couple of chances to pick up House wins.

Two Michigan House elections are outright toss-ups, and a couple of others could be in play if Democrats build a big enough blue wave. The party must also replace one of its members, John Conyers, who was forced to step down over sexual misconduct allegations.

Michigan was the site of one of Donald Trump’s most shocking wins in 2016. But now, not only is he unpopular — 44 percent approval, 52 percent disapproval, per Morning Consult — but Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who is term-limited out, has been tainted by the Flint water crisis, and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who is running for his seat, might be too. The environment is favorable enough here for the Democrats that election forecasters think they could take the state House, despite a sizable deficit in seats.

Here are the Michigan primary elections on August 7 you need to know about.

Michigan’s governor primary elections

Who are the Republicans? Republican Gov. Rick Snyder is retiring with dismal approval ratings during the Flint water crisis. In a recent NBC/Marist survey of the GOP primary, Attorney General Bill Schuette (36 percent) had built a decent lead over Lt. Gov. Calley (26 percent) with lots of voters undecided.

Who are the Democrats? Former State Senate Democratic leader Gretchen Whitmer narrowly led the NBC/Marist poll (35 percent) against fellow Democrats Shri Thanedar (25 percent) and Abdul El-Sayed (22 percent) among likely voters. So Whitmer looks like the favorite, while progressives like Alexandria Oscaio-Cortez are trying push El-Sayed to an upset victory.

Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer addresses the 37th United Auto Workers Constitutional Convention in Detroit.
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

What’s the story? Both parties still need to get through their August primaries, but NBC/Marist polled a hypothetical general election matchup with the leading candidates. They found Whitmer leading Schuette 47 percent to 38 percent. Cook Political Report thinks the governor’s race is a toss-up.

Michigan Senate primary elections

Who is the Senate Democrat? Debbie Stabenow, who has been in the Senate a long time. She was elected in 2000 and has sponsored a bill supporting a Medicare buy-in for people over 55.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) during a news conference at the Capitol in March to discuss Senate Democrats’ one trillion infrastructure plan.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Who are the Republicans? Business executive and veteran John James and business executive/Yale and Harvard economist Sandy Pensler are considered the Republican frontrunners. Historic preservationist Bob Carr is also running. Polls have shown James, one of the few black Republicans in big races this year, with a slight but persistent lead.

What’s the story? Stabenow should be fine; polls put her up by a lot. Cook puts this in the Likely Democratic camp.

Michigan 1st Congressional District

Who is the Republican? Rep. Jack Bergman, first elected to the House in 2016. He voted for Obamacare repeal (Michigan is a Medicaid expansion state) and the tax bill.

Rep. Jack Bergman (R-MI), arrives for a House Republican Conference meeting in the Capitol on June 6, 2018.
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Who are the Democrats? Well, technically zero. Matthew Morgan, the presumptive Democratic candidate, did not qualify for the primary ballot because of an administrative error by his campaign, so he has to run as a write-in candidate in the primary. Assuming he gets enough signatures in the primary — the former Marine has the endorsement of the state’s AFL-CIO — he should make it on the ballot in November.

What’s the story here? Cook rates the Michigan 1st as Likely Republican, meaning it is just on the edge of competitiveness for Democrats. Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 20 points here in 2016, and it is an overwhelmingly white and rural district. Cook rates it R+9, meaning all else being equal it’s about 9 points more Republican than the rest of the nation as a whole.

The case for Morgan, assuming he gets through this bureaucratic snafu, is Bergman doesn’t have much of an incumbency advantage, and Morgan has a profile — moderate, military — that national Democrats hope will play well in districts like this. Conor Lamb’s Pennsylvania victory would probably be the model for a Morgan win.

Michigan 6th Congressional District

Who is the Republican? Rep. Fred Upton, who has been in the House since 1986. He formerly chaired the influential Energy and Commerce Committee before being term-limited. You may remember that he played a key role in persuading some holdout Republicans to vote for the House’s Obamacare repeal bill.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), runs out of the Capitol after the last votes of the week on April 27, 2018.
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Who are the Democrats? It’s a kind of crowded field, with four Democrats on the ballot. Matt Longjohn, a former YMCA and public health official, has raised a lot of money and might have the most compelling story, having jumped into the race after Upton’s vote for the repeal legislation. David Benac is a Western Michigan history professor trying to run as a grassroots candidate. Rich Eichholz is a scientist arguing for evidenced-based policy. George Franklin, a former Kellogg lobbyist also raising a lot of money, rounds out the field.

What’s the story here? The 6th, like the 1st, is more of a long-shot for Democrats. Cook has it as Likely Republican and rates the district as R+4. Upton is an entrenched incumbent.

But Trump’s margin of victory was narrower here — 8 points — and the district has elected the more moderate Upton for decades. It seems at least conceivable that an anti-Trump wave could sweep him out of office, if Democrats successfully tie him to the president. But it probably would take a significant wave.

Michigan 7th Congressional District

Who is the Republican? Rep. Tim Walberg, first elected in 2006, though he lost reelection in 2008 before taking the seat back in 2010. He voted for Obamacare repeal and the tax bill.

Who are the Democrats? Gretchen Driskell was put on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Red to Blue list, meaning Washington Democrats like what they’ve seen from her campaign. She comes from a Navy family and has served as a mayor and now in the state legislature. She has run here before, having lost to Walberg in 2016 by 15 points.

Her only competition on the ballot is Steven Friday, running as a self-identified “Berniecrat.”

Gretchen Driskell of Michigan District 7, on May 10, 2018.
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

What’s the story here? This is another Likely Republican district; according to Cook it’s R+7. Trump won by 17 points, and the district is very white and not particularly well-educated.

But the 7th District has swung in prior wave elections (see 2008 and 2010), and Driskell profiles as the kind of candidate Democrats think can compete in areas like the 7th. Her 2016 loss was actually a little narrower than Clinton’s, too, if you’re looking for a reason to be optimistic.

Michigan 8th Congressional District

Who is the Republican? Rep. Mike Bishop, first elected in 2014. He also voted for Obamacare repeal, in spite of the Medicaid cuts for an expansion state, and the tax bill. He does technically face a primary challenger: Lokesh Kumar, who is running as an outsider against the establishment.

Who are the Democrats? Elissa Slotkin is another name on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Red to Blue list. She is a former CIA officer who worked on the White House National Security Council under both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama. She definitely has the look that Democrats like for these swing districts: a history of military and public service. Women are also cleaning up in Democratic primaries, as Vox has documented.

Elissa Slotkin, then the acting assistant secretary of defense for International Security Affairs, steps from the plane at right, while then Defense Secretary Ash Carter is greeted by US Ambassador to Iraq Stu Jones at the Baghdad International Airport in Iraq, on July 23, 2015.
Carolyn Kaster/Pool/Getty Images

Her only competition is Chris Smith, a Michigan State University public policy professor, running on good government and Medicare-for-all.

What’s the story here? The 8th is a toss-up, according to Cook, and the district is just R+4. Clinton lost to Trump by less than 7 points here in 2016. It covers an area near Lansing, the state capital, and its constituents are a little better educated — all ingredients that could give Democrats an edge.

Michigan 11th Congressional District

Who is the Republican? Rep. David Trott is retiring, so it’s an open seat. The GOP primary is very competitive, with a lot of credible candidates. Among them are former US Rep. Kerry Bentivolio and several state lawmakers: Sen. Mike Kowall, Rep. Klint Kesto and former Rep. Rocky Raczkowski. Self-funding business executive Lena Epstein rounds out the field for Republicans.

Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, R-Mich., waits for the start of a during a joint hearing with the House Natural Resources Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013. The hearing was loo
Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-MI), on Capitol Hill on Oct. 16, 2013.
Susan Walsh/AP

Who are the Democrats? Another wide-open field. Suneel Gupta, brother of doctor and CNN personality Sanjay Gupta, has the most money. Former Obama auto rescue official Haley Stevens has some union support and Hillary Clinton’s endorsement. Fayrouz Saad is angling to be the first Muslim woman elected to Congress and she got the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endorsement. Current Michigan Rep. Tim Greimel is also on the ballot.

Suneel Gupta works at his campaign headquarters in Livonia, Michigan, on May 1, 2018.
Paul Sancya/AP

Several of the candidates have raised at least six figures. Endorsements are spread out, though Greimel (perhaps unsurprisingly, as a sitting elected official) has the most.

What’s the story here? It looks like a toss-up. Trump beat Clinton by just four points here, and the district profiles as R+4. It’s pretty diverse and very well-educated.

Having no incumbent could be an advantage for Democrats, but it’s hard to know exactly how the race will look until we see who wins the primaries on Tuesday. But the 11th should be a focus for both parties in the battle for the House.

Michigan 13th Congressional District, special election

Who are the Democrats? Rep. John Conyers had to retire after sexual harassment allegations. His successor will be picked in this primary, barring something unforeseen.

HIs great-nephew, State Sen. Ian Conyers, is running. So is Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones. She is the subject of a strong campaign to elect an African-American woman for this city district. Westland Mayor Bill Wild and lefty former state Rep. Rashida Tlaib are the rest of the field, with Talib raising a lot of money and both running progressive platforms.

Who are the Republicans? There are none.

What’s the story? Whoever wins the primary will be the next representative for this 57 percent black district.

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