The Legislative Primary Races That Could Sway Control of Michigan

State Sen. Lana Theis speaks during the annual March for Life event at the state Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022. (Courtesy/Rep. Lana Theis)

By Isaac Constans

July 26, 2022

These primary races could dictate where Michigan stands on a number of issues—and just seven seats could tilt legislative control away from the Republican Party in both the state House and Senate.

MICHIGAN—With less than one week until the primary election on August 2, the state’s political balance could hinge on which candidates make their way through to the general elections.

This year’s primaries are relatively unique, as there are more challengers to Republican incumbents than any time in recent memory—representing an ideological gap that threatens to splinter the party and drain candidates’ resources leading up to competitive general elections against Democrats in November.

What happens on Aug. 2 could also change the course of Michigan’s Republican Party for the foreseeable future, as the DeVos family—long the most influential Michigan family in conservative politics—and former President Donald Trump have barbs over control of the Legislature. If outsider challengers unseat enough incumbent Republicans, Trump ally Rep. Matt Maddock (R-Milford) could become the new Speaker of the House right after he was kicked out of the House Republican caucus in April.

But that plan would require Republicans to keep control of the Legislature, and that’s no sure thing. In the first year of newly drawn districts by an impartial committee, dozens of seats are up for grabs, and Democrats are forecasted to have the legislative edge in Michigan for the first time in decades.

In all, 32 of the 44 legislative Republican incumbents are facing a challenge this year. Since the Republicans control the House 57-53, three seats would need to flip to change party control. And four seats could tilt control in the Senate, where Republicans currently enjoy a 22-16 advantage.

Michiganders can vote for candidates from whichever party they choose, regardless of whether they’re a Democrat or Republican. But once they choose to vote in one party primary, they must do so down the ticket—meaning they can’t vote in a Republican primary for governor and then a Democratic primary for a Congressional seat, or vice versa. Split ticket ballots in the primary will not be counted.

Click here to view a sample ballot and find other information on where to vote in your district.

These are the primary races to watch:

State House

36th District

Location: Cass and St. Joseph counties

Republican Candidates: Steve Carra (Incumbent), Jack Coleman, Scott McGraw, Jerry Solis

Democratic Candidates: Roger Williams

Carra became one of the big players for the Michigan GOP in the state House after he tried to challenge US Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph)—both of whom have since announced they won’t be running. Carra had Trump’s backing in that race before the former president shifted his support elsewhere, to Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Holland), leading Carra to drop out. While Carra made a move for Congress, however, other Republicans also filed for his seat, each carrying significantly different views. The race will be a bellwether for the Michigan GOP to see if Carra—who has emerged as a polarizing figure even on the far right, lacking pro-life support—survives the primaries again, as he snuck through last time with a 37% share of the vote.

63rd District

Location: St. Clair and Macomb counties

Republican Candidates: Jacky Eubanks, Jacob Skarbek, Jay DeBoyer

Democratic Candidates: Jamie Murray, Kelly Noland

Eubanks is the best-known candidate in this considerably red district, but Eubanks is also extremely divisive, having come out against contraception, and could be an interesting watch for an open primary. Earning Trump’s endorsement last winter, Eubanks went door-to-door following the 2020 election in hopes of proving that the results were rigged against Trump. She has since campaigned on investigating the election, impeaching Whitmer, and pressing charges against the governor. State police have rebuffed Eubanks’ claims of voter fraud and the other Republican candidates have been reluctant to go as far as her, setting up an interesting showdown where if Eubanks earns the nomination, Democrats could rally support from moderates and potentially flip the district blue.

64th District 

Location: Sanilac and St. Clair counties

Republican Candidates: Andrew Beeler (Incumbent), Gary Eisen (Incumbent), John Mahaney

Democratic Candidates: Charles Howell

This race is a relatively rare case of two state House incumbents from the same party pitted against each other, vying for the same seat where the Republican primary victor will more than likely go all the way in November. Beeler has the backing of the Michigan Farm Bureau, and moderate conservative organizations have previously championed him as an up-and-coming figure in the Republican Party. Eisen, meanwhile, supported a group that sought to disrupt Michigan’s Electoral College, suggesting that they may resort to violence, which had House leadership strip him of committee seats. Mahaney is a long shot: He has twice lost a bid for House, including a loss to Eisen in 2022. 

68th District

Location: Genesee and Oakland counties

Republican Candidates: David Martin (Incumbent), Lynne Freiberger, Vern Miller, Kristen Swanson 

Democratic Candidates: Amie Carter, Raymond Freiberger, Cheri Hardmon

Even aside from a husband and wife running on opposite sides of the aisle, this primary contains plenty of fireworks. Martin is a strong incumbent for the Republican side, but the district looks very different after redistricting, and Swanson is primarying him as part of the “MAGA movement.” For the Democrats, Hardmon is a recognizable face in the area, as she is a weekend anchor for WJRT-TV and is backed by the Michigan AFL-CIO; she stands a real chance if Martin goes down. 

79th District

Location: Barry, Allegan, and Kent counties

Republican Candidates: Angela Rigas, Ryan Gallogly, Jeremiah Keeler

Democratic Candidates: Kimberly Kennedy-Barrington

Anything can happen in this Republican primary, which pits Angela Rigas, a Trump-endorsed small business owner from Caledonia, against two formidable candidates. Rigas has been around politics as an activist in the Republican primary, running in a primary in 2014, and is proud to have attended the Jan. 6 insurrection, she said. Both Gallogly and Keeler are more traditional, well-liked candidates and have rallied local support—like Gallogly with an endorsement from the Associated Builders and Contractors of Michigan and Keeler with the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce.

84th District

Location: Kent County

Republican Candidates: Mike Milanowski Jr., Robert Regan, Justin Noordhoek, John Wetzel

Democratic Candidates: Carol Glanville (Incumbent)

The cards need to be shuffled in this Republican primary. Regan fumbled a special election bid in May to Glanville when a number of Regan’s sexist and racist comments turned off voters in an overwhelmingly Republican area. Now, the district is remade in a way that already helps Democrats, and Glanville gets the benefit of incumbency and a Republican primary that resembles the one that produced Regan. Unless Republicans can pull off something special, Glanville is likely to remain in office, securing a key seat in Democrats’ fight for the House following redistricting.

88th District 

Location: Muskegon and Ottawa counties

Republican Candidates: Greg VanWoerkom (Incumbent), Mick Bricker

Democratic Candidates: Jeffrey Noel, Christine Baker

VanWoerkom is extremely well-liked within the Republican Party and is part of the Michigan GOP bloodline, with his father having served in the state Senate and VanWoerkom having worked in the US House as an aide to Huizenga. But his challenger, Mick Bricker, has the backing of Trump and Maddock, Trump’s main ally within the Michigan House, and he’s set to use VanWoerkom’s history in Lansing against the sitting representative. The winner of the Republican primary will likely take this solidly red seat, even as Noel and Baker garner significant support from Grand Haven. The primary will be a test of Trump’s influence in Michigan.

103rd District

Location: Benzie, Leelanau and Grand Traverse counties

Republican Candidates: Jack O’Malley (Incumbent), Heather Cerone

Democratic Candidates: Betsy Coffia, Michael Brodsky

In 2020, this district went for President Joe Biden and Republican Senate candidate John James simultaneously, meaning it’s either party’s for the taking. A radio host and incumbent, O’Malley is popular and personable with connections in the area, but Cerone is backed by prominent election conspiracists. For the Democrats, Coffia is an established candidate who has yet to get to the House despite multiple attempts, while Brodsky serves on the Traverse City Downtown Development Authority Board of Directors and once interned for US Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), who was then in the House of Representatives.

INVESTIGATION: The Will of the 8%: Michigan’s Legislative Loophole

State Senate

4th District

Location: Wayne County

Republican Candidates: James Chapman, Michael Frazier, James Houston, Beth Socia

Democratic Candidates: Darrin Camilleri

The only primary in the 4th District is on the Republican side, and the party will need a strong candidate to unseat Camilleri, who’s a popular state representative. That’s a big question mark. Houston is a relative unknown, but used to be a Congressional intern. Frazier lost handily to Camilleri in 2018, and Chapman, who’s ran and lost multiple times, brought a naked doll in a noose to a 2020 protest of the governor. This is a must-win for Democrats, even in a district that’s shaped well for Republicans, and a fringe Republican could cement Camilleri’s seat.

6th District

Location: Oakland and Wayne counties

Republican Candidates: Ken Crider

Democratic Candidates: Mary Cavanagh, Vicki Barnett, Darryl Brown

This will be a Democratic district, so the primary is the real competition. On paper, Barnett and Cavanagh are neck and neck, and the two candidates have similarly middle-left policies and approaches to the campaigns. The mayor of Farmington Hills, Barnett will likely do better in the suburbs, while Cavanagh should take the slice of Detroit included in this district—though Cavanagh will need to overcome a recent drunk driving charge.

17th District

Location: Branch, St. Joseph, Cass, Calhoun and Berrien counties

Republican Candidates: Kim LaSata (Incumbent), Jonathan Lindsey

Democratic Candidates: Scott Rex Starr

Starr is the lone Democrat in a solidly Republican district, so the real race is on Aug. 2 between LaSata and Lindsey. A sitting state senator, LaSata lost some of north Berrien County to redistricting, but she still boasts five years of experience serving the area as an elected representative and has worked to support law enforcement, expand broadband access, and cut taxes. In contrast to some of the other Trump-endorsed candidates, Lindsey has a background inside of and adjacent to politics, having graduated from Yale with a political science degree and served in the army, and he’s well-funded from a variety of sources, including himself. More similar to other Trump-endorsed candidates are Lindsey’s priorities, which include rolling back government overreach and strengthening election security.

22nd District

Location: Livingston, Ingham, Shiawassee, Genesee, and Oakland counties

Republican Candidates: Lana Theis (Incumbent), Mike Detmer

Democratic Candidates: Jordan Genso

In this Republican-leaning district, Theis ticks all the boxes except for one: an endorsement from Trump. That belongs to Detmer, her challenger, since Trump propped up the one-time Congressional hopeful after Theis’ signed a Michigan Senate Oversight Committee report that debunked claims that Trump was cheated during the 2020 election. This district sets up a primetime showdown between Trump and his former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who has bankrolled Theis as a core supporter of voucher programs and launched attack ads against Detmer. The race more largely could indicate who controls the Michigan GOP.

35th District

Location: Bay, Midland, and Saginaw counties

Republican Candidates: Annette Glenn, Tim Kelly, Martin Blank, Christian Velasquez

Democratic Candidates: Kristen McDonald Rivet

In a district that could swing either way, Rivet awaits whichever Republican makes it out of a hotly contested primary. A state representative from Midland, Glenn has a good grip on the region, though she and Kelly, a former state representative, could take votes away from one another as populists candidates each with a dose of controversy—most notably when Kelly made racist posts about Muslims. This primary is one where candidates who skew too far right may lose voters in a general election predicted to be a nail-biter, which could give the region its first Democratic senator in more than a decade.

37th District

Location: Northern Michigan

Republican Candidates: Triston Cole, John Damoose, William Hindle, George Ranville

Democratic Candidates: Barbara Conley, Jimmy Schmidt, Randy Bishop

In this race, there’s only one real Democrat: Barbara Conley. County organizers have suggested that far-right candidates Jimmy Schmidt and Randy Bishop are running as Democrats try to steal votes from Conley to set up a conservative-versus-conservative general election, though Democrats likely stand no chance in this district to begin with. Meanwhile, on the Republican side, there’s plenty to watch as Cole and Damoose have both served as representatives and belong to the conspiracy wing of the GOP, and Ranville is a favorite among grassroots organizers. If seven candidates wasn’t enough to keep track of, there are other oddities in this bizarre race too, including an apparent plot to bribe Hindle, blatant racism, and an already messy primary


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