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Stabenow retirement creates potential GOP gain in Michigan

By Sarah May on
 January 6, 2023

Longtime Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) announced on Thursday that she will not seek re-election in 2024, as The Hill reports, in a move that prompted immediate speculation about whether a Republican could claim the open seat and also about which candidates – on both sides of the aisle – may step into the fray.

Stabenow's decision to call it quits after more than two decades in the upper chamber was described by one Republican strategist as a “political earthquake” that has “probably spawned a thousand meetings already,” as Axios notes.

Stabenow retiring

In declaring her intentions with regard to 2024, Stabenow declared, “Inspired by a new generation of leaders, I have decided to pass the torch in the U.S. Senate.”

“I am announcing today that I will not seek re-election and will leave the U.S. Senate at the end of my term on January 3, 2025,” the Michigan Democrat added.

Currently serving as the chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, as The Hill notes, Stabenow vowed to concentrate on legislation she believes will produce real benefits not just those in her home state, but the country as a whole.

“For the next two years, I am intensely focused on continuing this important work to improve the lives of Michiganders. This includes leading the passage of the next five-year Farm Bill which determines our nation's food and agriculture policies,” said Stabenow.

Though Stabenow, 72, did not mention any specific post-Senate professional plans, she did indicate her desire “to begin a new chapter” in her life by “continuing to serve our state outside of elected office,” and spending more time with loved ones, including her elderly mother.

Surprise development

Stabenow's news appeared to come as a real surprise, even among her fellow Democrats, with many of them now scrambling to determine whether to pursue the impending vacancy themselves.

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-MI) was among those mentioned as potential contenders for the seat, and her reaction to the development was one of shock, according to Politico.

“I'm stunned,” Dingell said. “She told me months ago she was running. … I can't imagine our delegation without her, but today is the day we celebrate her and then we figure it out.”

Also said to be seriously considering a bid for Stabenow's seat on the Democratic side is Rep. Elissa Slotkin, though Rep. Haley Stevens has also been the target of speculation since the news broke.

The names of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who established residency in Traverse City, Michigan last year, were also thrown into the mix on Thursday, though both have since scuttled rumors of possible runs for the Senate seat.

Stabenow, for her part, is confident about the candidate pool, telling Politico, “We have a great group of possibilities. So, I'll be having lots of conversations as you can imagine with folks. I think we have a wonderful generation of leaders on our side, I don't see the same kind of on the Republican side.”

Republicans eye seat

Just as Democrats began swiftly mobilizing to identify possible candidates for Stabenow's seat, discussions among Republicans commenced in similar fashion, with a number of notable prospects already the topic of significant speculation

Included on the list of Republicans thought to have a possible interest in running are Congressman-elect John James, who unsuccessfully sought a Senate seat back in 2018, and former Rep. Peter Meier, whose re-election hopes were upended when he lost his primary race in 2022, according to Politico.

Tudor Dixon, who gained national attention in her ultimately failed bid to unseat Whitmer this past November, has also been named as a potential Senate candidate, and while a source close to her camp indicated that she “isn't ruling anything out, but remains laser-focused on how she can help Republicans win in 2024.”

Others in the Michigan GOP ranks being floated as possible contenders include Reps. Lisa McClain and Bill Huizenga, and former gubernatorial candidates Kevin Rinke and Perry Johnson.

Even with so many credible candidates already jostling for position, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday, according to The Hill, that he is “confident Democrats will retain the seat” due to the “strong” structure the party has established in Michigan, but whether his optimism is well-founded, only time will tell.