Michigan’s U.S. Senate race: Who’s in, who’s out and who’s weighing a run

U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Lansing) speaks to students, activists and lawmakers at the state Capitol following the Feb. 13, 2023 mass shooting at Michigan State University, Feb. 15, 2023 | Laina G. Stebbins

By Jon King, Michigan Advance

With Monday morning’s announcement that U.S. Elissa Slotkin (D-Lansing) was officially in the running for U.S. Senate, the race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing) in 2024 is starting to take shape.

“We need a new generation of leaders that thinks differently, works harder, and never forgets that we are *public servants*,” tweeted Slotkin, who is the highest-profile Democrat to announce for the seat.

Slotkin has won three terms in Congress and now represents the 7th District, a swing seat in mid-Michigan. “The Good Doctor” actor Hill Harper is reportedly contemplating a run, while businessman Nasser Beydoun set up an exploratory committee in December.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has said it planned to “aggressively target” the seat. So far, the only announced GOP candidate is State Board of Education member Nikki Snyder of Dexter, although others may still jump in.

Only one Republican, former Sen. Spencer Abraham, has represented Michigan in the Senate over the past 40 years. But with Democrats currently holding a slim 51-49 advantage in the Senate, the stakes for 2024 remain high. 

Several Michigan Democrats have said they were declining to run next year.

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, the state’s first African American to hold the post, announced Sunday that he has decided against a campaign for the seat, which will be open in 2024 after Stabenow said in early January that she would not seek another term.

“Serving our state in Washington, DC would be a great opportunity, but instead I will keep standing tall for Michigan, right here at home, as Lieutenant Governor,” Gilchrist tweeted. “The Governor & I have more work to do. I look forward to working with our next US Senator to get it done.”

State Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak), who gained national attention last year for her viral pro-LGBTQ+ speech on the Senate floor and became a prolific fundraiser for Senate Democrats, tweeted Friday that she’s passing on a run.

“In Michigan, we’ll demonstrate what’s possible when we elect Democrats,” said McMorrow. “We’ll show what state legislatures can do, and create a state where everyone is welcome, protected, and able to thrive. That’s why I’m exactly where I need to be, and why I won’t run for US Senate in 2024.”

U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Livonia) bowed out late last month, as did U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, who lost the Democratic primary to Gov. Whitmer in 2018.

Some progressives are hoping to recruit a candidate further to the left of Slotkin, while some African American Democrats have expressed concern about not having representation. 

Also interested is former state Rep. Leslie Love (D-Detroit), who told the Michigan Advance in January that she didn’t think Black women had been given due consideration by the media as potential candidates. 

Former U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield) also has said she may also join the race if a “strong, African American” didn’t step forward. 

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson has also been mentioned as a possibility, and while she has yet to officially decline, she indicated at the Michigan Democratic Party convention earlier this month in Lansing that she wasn’t inclined to seek the seat.

“My job as an election administrator in 2024 is the priority for me,” Benson told MLive. “I’m listening and seeing what’s really best for our state, but you know, my heart is committed to doing the work that Michiganders hired me to do.” Sen. Ruth Johnson | (Andrew Roth/Michigan Advance)

Among those weighing their options on the GOP side are state Sen. Ruth Johnson (R-Holly), U.S. Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Bruce Twp.) and former gubernatorial candidate Kevin Rinke of Bloomfield Township. Former U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids) has not said if he’ll run.

One prominent Republican who has bowed out is U.S. Rep. John James (R-Farmington Hills), who said Friday he plans to seek reelection to the 10th District House seat he won last November. James lost two U.S. Senate races in 2018 and 2020.

Former Lt. Gov. Brian Calley ruled out a run last month. 

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: [email protected]. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.