What Are the Odds? A Very Early Look at Potential GOP Senate Candidates

Democrats hold both of Michigan’s Senate seats. Republicans want to win one of them.

There’s no time like the present–especially in politics.

Michigan voters will elect a new governor in 2018, and U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow has filed paperwork to run for a fourth term. While the election is more than 20 months away, political analyst Susan Demas says now is the time for anyone thinking of running for office to decide whether they’re in or out.

“We’re already seeing candidates for governor formally declare their campaigns, and the U.S. Senate race usually tops well over $10 million now,” she says.

Demas is the editor and publisher of the Inside Michigan Politics newsletter. She says Sen. Stabenow has more than $3 million in the bank and has raised $35 million over her last three campaigns. That makes her a tough candidate to beat. Demas says if Stabenow has one weakness, it would be her support for Hillary Clinton‘s 2016 presidential campaign. Clinton lost twice in Michigan last year, first to Bernie Sanders in the primary election, then to Donald Trump in November. In both cases, Clinton’s opponents portrayed her as the status quo candidate and a Washington insider. Anyone who runs against Stabenow could make the same case since she’s been there for 20 years (she was elected to the U.S. House in 1996 before winning her first Senate term in 2000).  

Inside Michigan Politics

Demas says Sanders still has a lot of support in Michigan, and it was on display at the recent state and national Democratic Party conventions. But she says anyone considering a primary campaign against Stabenow will have to raise a lot of money.

“Debbie Stabenow has raised $35 million in her last three races, so to be able to compete with that would be a real challenge for anybody,” Demas says.

On the other hand, it’s a seat Republicans want–badly. Both of Michigan’s U.S. senators are Democrats. The state’s last Republican senator was Spencer Abraham, who served one term before Stabenow narrowly beat him in the 2000 election. He later joined President George W. Bush‘s cabinet as Secretary of Energy. Stabenow beat GOP challengers by 14 points in 2006 and 21 points in 2012. But Republican strength has grown in Michigan. The party controls all three branches of state government, and helped Donald Trump become the first GOP presidential candidate to win the state since 1988. No one from either party has declared their candidacy yet, but this could be an opportunity for several well-known Republicans to challenge Stabenow.

One name that often comes up for higher office is Candice Miller. She retired from Congress in 2016, choosing to run for Macomb County Public Works Commissioner instead. She won that race, but has her hands full supervising repairs of a large sewer line that collapsed a week before she took office. Demas says she doubts Miller will run for Senate, but would be a formidable candidate if she does.

“I think it’s very unlikely, although Republicans would probably follow her everywhere with rose petals if she did,” Demas says. “She is pretty much their ideal candidate. She served on the Homeland Security Committee, she’s won statewide as Secretary of State, she has crossover appeal, she’s likable. But she left Washington, she left the seat, so it seems doubtful that she’d want to go back.”

Demas says other potential Republican challengers include Rep. Fred Upton, who just ended his run as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He has a built a relatively moderate reputation since being elected to Congress in 1987. But she says he’s not well-known outside of his district in southwest Michigan. Upton also refused to endorse Trump, which wouldn’t sit well with the president’s supporters.They might back another unconventional candidate such as musician Kid Rock, who publicly backed Trump, and could finance his own campaign. He also has something Upton and other candidates may lack in the Detroit area–name recognition. 

“If Kid Rock were to get in, I think you would see that Michigan would get an awful of national attention,” Demas says.

Click on the audio player to hear the conversation.

IMP Handicaps GOP Senate Field
Name Occupation Political Experience Odds of Running
Fred Upton U.S. Representative 30+ years in Congress 5/10
Randy Richardville Consultant 14 years in MI Legislature 3/10
Rick Jones State Senator 3 terms in State House 2/10
Kid Rock Musician None 1/10
Ted Nugent Musician NRA member/activist 1/10



  • Pat Batcheller is a host and Senior News Editor for 101.9 WDET, presenting local news, traffic and weather updates during Morning Edition. He is an amateur musician.