LANSING, Mich. — As political junkies ponder daily polling changes in the battle for the Senate, a lesser-known Michigan district is setting spending records.
The race in Michigan’s redesigned Seventh Congressional District, which pits Democratic incumbent Elissa Slotkin against Republican challenger Tom Barrett, a state lawmaker and military veteran, has become one of the most closely contested in the nation. Combined, spending on both sides totals nearly $27 million.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Alone fall nearly $5 million to save Slotkin, more than the band spent anywhere in the country. Nearly 1 in 22 dollars spent on home racing this cycle went to battle for that district.
Slotkin probably never expected such a close race. She currently represents Michigan’s eighth district, but newly selected districts have caused her to run in the seventh, which has slightly more Democratic voters than her former home. However, Biden’s plummeting approval ratings, along with the country’s faltering economy, have nearly negated that advantage.
The district is in many ways the perfect swing district, encompassing the full spectrum of voter types – there are urban voters and college students in Lansing, but also rural voters in surrounding counties, including farmers and factory workers.
Republican candidate Barrett, who sat down for a lengthy interview with the Free Washington Beaconsays the race will ultimately be decided by Slotkin’s voting record, which is 100 per cent aligned with President Joe Biden and 96 percent with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.). Though Slotkin and his supporters have spent millions touting his record on jobs and protecting abortion rights, inflation remains Michigan voters’ top concern heading into Election Day — a fact Barrett thinks it will be difficult for Slotkin to escape.
“Elissa Slotkin has a voting record that she needs to be held accountable for,” Barrett said. “She put Joe Biden first 100% of the time I show up to put the people and families of my district first.”
A native of Southfield, Michigan, Barrett served in the US military for more than two decades and was stationed at Guantanamo Bay and Iraq. He was elected to the Michigan Legislature in 2014 and says he has an actual record of bipartisan votes rather than just claims about them.
“I’ve stood up to my own party on issues over the years, I don’t lie to people,” Barrett said. “I’m a conservative because I think conservative solutions are the best way to solve the problems we face in this country, but I have an independent voting record separate from my own party, and I’m going to go to Washington and be who I a m.”
Barrett finds herself in a competitive showdown with Slotkin in part thanks to new district lines drawn by an independent commission. Michigan political operatives say the new map was created to give Democrats a better chance of winning a majority in the state Senate, which Republicans have controlled for decades, in exchange for not locking up incumbents Congressional Democrats. With the current political environment, the new cards put Slotkin and longtime Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee at risk of losing their seats.
Another conundrum caused by the new map is that Slotkin didn’t initially live in the district. To qualify as a candidate, Slotkin rented an apartment from a friend and campaign donor who also works as a lobbyist. This arrangement is the object attack ads from Republicans, who accuse Slotkin of voting for bills that direct money to the lobbyist’s company.
“I tell people my living situation isn’t that complicated, I just live at home with my wife and kids,” Barrett joked. “We are the only two voters registered with us.”
These challenges help explain why Slotkin pulls out every card she has in the final weeks of her campaign. Earlier this month, Republican Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) announced her support for Slotkin, the first Democrat she has ever publicly endorsed. Cheney will appear on the campaign trail with Slotkin on Tuesday for an event called “Evening for Patriotism and Bipartisanship.”
Calling Slotkin “bipartisan” is laughable, Barrett says. He alleges that much of Slotkin’s resistance to Biden’s agenda is purely rhetorical and that most of his campaign surrogates, such as Rep. Jamie Raskin (Md.), are diehard partisan Democrats.
Images obtained by the Free tag from an Oct. 22 campaign event Slotkin did with Raskin features the two speeches that seem more suited to a home in a suburb of Washington, D.C., than a purple neighborhood in the Midwest. In his opening remarks, Slotkin laments the “conservative counties” surrounding Lansing and says Raskin asked if he should make more subdued remarks. Slotkin said “No” and asked Raskin to give the audience “the real deal”.
Raskin then attacked the Second Amendment and said the Constitution does not guarantee any right to individual gun ownership. “You only have to read the Constitution to determine how flawed a concept is,” Raskin said. He also called for the abolition of the Electoral College and said many Trump supporters were “semi-fascists.”
Slotkin’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the event, which is just one of many examples that Barrett says reveal the true nature of his opponent.
Slotkin “wants it both ways,” portraying himself as a moderate while placating the Democratic Party base, Barrett says. On student debt forgiveness, for example, Slotkin criticized Biden’s bailout as a “band aid” for the problem, but then said she was “happy for the people who will get some relief.”
“She’s like, ‘Oh, you know, we need to relieve people, but it’s not doing it the right way or going far enough,'” Barrett said. “I opposed it. It’s unfair for truck drivers and waitresses to buy college degrees from Ivy League grads like Slotkin.” Slotkin graduated from Cornell University with a degree in sociology, then earned a graduate degree from Columbia University.
Slotkin’s image as a thorn in the side of Democratic leadership is also being undermined by the party’s efforts to keep her in Congress. Although Slotkin regularly attacks Pelosi and the party establishment, they are among his campaign’s biggest boosters.
No Michigan Democrat, and few nationwide, received more money from the Pelosi-led PAC House Majority. By the end of October, the House Majority PAC had spent over $1,215,000 on Slotkin’s run, which, together with DCCC spending, brought Slotkin’s spending to nearly $6 million.
Slotkin’s campaign also managed to raise over $9 million itself and still has over $2 million in cash to spend in the final days of the campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Policy. Barrett, on the other hand, has already spent almost all of the $2.5 million raised by his campaign. But Barrett says he never thought he would win the money battle.
“Slotkin probably has a Federal Reserve print shop in their basement. They raise and spend a ton of money, and we’re just trying to keep up with getting our message out to voters,” Barrett said. “But we think we’re going to win this race and get America back on track.”