Photo credits: Dan Kildee, Paul Junge/Facebook
Photo credits: Dan Kildee, Paul Junge/Facebook

Michigan is a crucial battleground for determining which party controls the US House, experts say.

MICHIGAN—The 2020 Census cut Michigan down by one congressional representative beginning next year, so well-known candidates are merging into new districts redrawn by an independent committee, sometimes colliding with one another. The shift has set up a number of compelling primary races ahead of the Aug. 2 election. 

While voters attempt to navigate their way through the weeds, national groups are pouring money into several Michigan elections, especially the 3rd, 7th, 8th and 10th congressional districts, which they believe could be crucial to swaying control in the US House. Even in some districts sure to go red or blue, campaigns have turned ugly.

Here are the significant primary races worth watching:

3rd District

Location: Kent, Muskegon and Ottawa counties

Democratic Candidates: Hillary Scholten

Republican Candidates: Peter Meijer (Incumbent), John Gibbs

This district is a political chess game, with three extremely different candidates trying to stay one move ahead. Unopposed in the Democratic primary is Scholten, a former Justice Department attorney who ran for the district against Meijer in 2020 and was narrowly defeated. The newly redrawn district now leans further left, giving Scholten a real chance this time around.

But just because Democrats don’t have a primary doesn’t mean they’re sitting this one out. 

Recent Democratic-funded campaign ads have attempted to boost Republican challenger John Gibbs chances, as Democrats believe the former Trump appointee is a more beatable candidate than Meijer, who currently holds the seat. Gibbs has come under fire for a number of controversial social media posts that ultimately prevented him from being appointed as the Director of the Office of Personnel Management, the federal government’s workforce agency. 

Meijer, an army veteran, made a splash in his first term when he voted to impeach Trump, earning him the label of a Republican in Name Only, or RINO, by extreme wings of the party. A constitutional conservative, Meijer has also slid over to vote with Democrats on gun safety packages, as well as more recently to support federal protections for same-sex marriages.

5th District

Location: Lenawee, Monroe, Hillsdale, Jackson, Calhoun, Branch, St. Joseph, Cass and Berrien counties

Democratic Candidates: Bart Goldberg

Republican Candidates: Tim Walberg (Incumbent), Sherry O’Donnell

This district should be a slam dunk for Republicans, assuming Walberg is re-elected to his eighth term in Congress—and that’s probably a safe assumption. Walberg has survived the times by embracing red-meat issues for the Republican Party, including border security, Second Amendment protection, and election conspiracy theories. After the Jan. 6 insurrection, Walberg voted to decertify results from Arizona and Pennsylvania, which President Joe Biden won.

Still, Walberg is being challenged from the right. Dr. Sherry O’Donnell, a physician in southwest Michigan, has made a name for herself by pushing misinformation about COVID-19 and the vaccine. Her primary issues are medical freedom, America-first policies, and federal term limits. Conservative firebrand Ted Nugent, an ally of Trump, has endorsed O’Donnell, who’s running on an outsider track. Now with Trump’s endorsement, Walberg seems to have every advantage over O’Donnell—even in the far-right camp.

Goldberg is a longshot in this district, which is staunchly red.

8th District

Location: Bay, Genesee, Midland, Saginaw and Tuscola counties

Democratic Candidates: Dan Kildee (Incumbent) 

Republican Candidates: Paul Junge, Matthew Seely, Candice Miller 

Kildee took over Michigan’s 5th District from his uncle, Dale Kildee, in 2013, and has been immune to any real challenge since. In office, Kildee has made his name in securing infrastructure investments, affordable prescription medications, and clean water. This year, with shifting districts, Republicans have a fresh chance to take over the district, and three candidates are vying for the opportunity. 

Junge appears to be the favorite in the Republican primary. The former prosecutor and news anchor narrowly lost to Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly)—who’s in a race separated by paper-thin margins this year, though without a primary)—in a separate district in 2020, and the district’s new makeup, including the conservative hotbed of Midland and surrounding areas that have shifted more right, could help him. But the primary won’t be a cakewalk for Junge, who faces challenges from Trump-backers Miller and Seely. Miller is a Genesee County businesswoman and Christian conservative who happens to share a name with the state’s former Secretary of State, though they are not the same person. A steel parts manufacturer, Seely has come up through the Michigan GOP ranks to earn the endorsement of Trump Republicans. Seely is likely the more significant threat to Junge.

10th District

Location: Macomb and Oakland counties

Democratic Candidates: Huwaida Arraf, Carl Marlinga, Rhonda Powell, Angela Rogensues, Henry Yanez

Republican Candidates: John James, Tony Marcinkewciz

Macomb County has a big choice to make amid a sea of candidates in a toss-up district, though we’ll probably have a better idea of which way the 10th District will swing after the August 2 primaries. Veteran and former Senate hopeful James is the runaway favorite for Republicans, endorsed by former President Donald Trump, and he should breeze through a primary against Marcinkewciz, a web developer from Farmington Hills.

With five candidates on the Democratic side, voters have a lot to sort through. A civil rights attorney, Arraf leads the race in fundraising, but Marlinga has the name-recognition advantage as the former country prosecutor in Macomb. Marlinga said he was motivated to run after witnessing the storming of the Capitol, and has pledged to uphold and certify fair elections.

Running alongside those two are Powell, Rogensues, and Yanez. Powell is running as a newcomer, hoping to build a “multiracial” coalition to advocate for voting rights and affordable health care. Rogensues is a Warren city councilwoman who said she would work to lower prescription drug prices. Yanez is a former state representative who ran out of term limits and said his first priority would be the economy.

11th District

Location: Oakland County

Democratic Candidates: Haley Stevens (Incumbent), Andy Levin (Incumbent)

Republican Candidates: Mark Ambrose, Matthew DenOtter

Levin and Stevens face off in this redrawn district, which has led two incumbents into the same territory. The primary has led Levin, a progressive Democrat from a prominent Michigan family, and Stevens, backed by local leaders, to highlight their differences in attempts to attract different stripes of the same party. Levin’s big haul comes from a slew of endorsements from union groups. But retiring Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield), whose district is also lassoed into the new alignment, endorsed Stevens. This one is a push that will depend on personal politics. 

Whoever wins the Democratic primary will be the odds-on favorite in this district, but there are two noteworthy Republican candidates. Mark Ambrose is a veteran and businessman who’s said he would prioritize border security and tackling inflation. DenOtter is also a businessman who said he would prioritize the Second Amendment, infrastructure, and pro-life issues.

12th District

Location: Oakland and Wayne counties

Democratic Candidates: Rashida Tlaib (Incumbent), Janice Winfrey, Kelly Garrett, Shanelle Jackson

Republican Candidates: Hassan Nehme, James Hooper, Steven Elliott

Voters have a lot of choices in this heavily Democratic district, but at the end of the day, it will likely come down to Tlaib and Winfrey. As the incumbent, Tlaib is a well-known name nationally and has immense financial backing compared to every other candidate—giving her a major edge. Detroiters also know and like Winfrey, who won a fifth term as City Clerk after administering the 2020 elections, though she may be lesser-known to the suburbs. Garrett has also raised a significant amount. It would take a monumental upset for any of the three Republicans to take on Winfrey or unseat Tlaib—especially since she has the support of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and other members of the US House’s “Squad.” 

13th District

Location: Wayne County

Democratic Candidates: John Conyers III, Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, Michael Griffie, Adam Hollier, Sharon McPhail, Sam Riddle, Portia Roberson, Shri Thanedar, Lorrie Rutledge

Republican Candidates: Martell Bivings 

The 13th District reflects the role of money in politics. Thanedar and Hollier have been throwing punches back and forth, and a recent poll appears to show Thanedar is ahead

A state representative and entrepreneur, Thanedar ran for governor in 2018 and has been actively promoting his work with Gov.Gretchen Whitmer, even though he previously donated a small amount to John McCain during his presidential run. Thanedar is largely self-funded and has dumped his fortune into the campaign. 

A veteran and state senator, Hollier is well-known in Detroit and a mainstay in local politics, but critics allege that much of his funding has come from pro-Israel organizations and PACs with crypto ties. Portia Roberson is an attorney and businesswoman who now leads a workforce training organization, and has shown up second in recent polling behind Thanedar.