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MLIVE: Five Michigan Republicans jockey to take on Slotkin at pro-Trump candidate forum

Updated Feb 20, 9:12 PM; Posted Feb 20, 9:00 PM

HOWELL, MI -- Republicans represented by a Democratic congresswoman who played a key role in impeaching President Donald Trump expressed a burning desire to reclaim political control of Michigan’s 8th District.

More than 450 people filled a Howell ballroom Thursday to learn more about five Republican candidates seeking their party’s nomination to challenge freshmen U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly, and help deliver Michigan to Trump in November. Voters and candidates said their top priority is beating Slotkin, who flipped the formerly Republican district two years after Trump recorded a 7 point margin of victory there.

The five Republican hopefuls -- Real estate agent and salesman Mike Detmer, Marine veteran Alan Hoover, former prosecutor and TV news anchor Paul Junge, Lansing-area lawyer Kristina Lyke, and State Board of Education member Nikki Snyder -- struck an urgent tone during their opening remarks.

“The anger, the disgust, with the representation we are receiving in Washington today is very strong,” Junge said during his opening remarks. “I hear people constantly say ‘we listened to her tell us that she would not be about impeachment,’ and instead she goes to Washington and was the instigator of impeachment.”

Some framed the upcoming election as a “war” against socialism, “the deep state” and attacks on conservative values. All candidates agreed Slotkin’s vote to impeach Trump for obstructing Congress and abusing power berayed her campaign promises to govern a moderate.

“There’s a globalist agenda, and there’s deep state operatives, and there’s swamp monsters, and there’s people like Elissa Slotkin, who may have spent some of her lifetime here in Michigan, but she’s definitely spent an ample amount of time in D.C.,” Hoover said.

Slotkin’s re-election campaign acknowledged the start of primary candidate forums shows the race is heating up. Campaign Manager Matt Hennessey said the campaign said it’s gearing up for a “tough fight" to hold her seat in the traditionally Republican district.

Slotkin beat incumbent Republican Mike Bishop by a narrow 3.8% margin in 2018, earning 13,000 more votes. Bishop was seated in the front row at the forum.

The event was held in Livingston County, which voted against Slotkin by a nearly 19 point margin in 2018. She earned only 38% of the vote there, and she was deeply unpopular among the crowd.

Slotkin also lost Oakland County by 11 points but made up for the difference by posting an overwhelming victory in Ingham County, where she won by 39 points.

Betty Nelson, a 59-year-old Hamburg Township resident, said she voted for Slotkin, but since changed her mind. Nelson said her top issue is stopping undocumented immigrants from entering the country.

The Thursday forum was the first time all five candidates shared a stage and served as a valuable opportunity for Livingston County residents to learn more about their options in 2020. It was also an opportunity the candidates used to express their support for the president and his agenda throughout the night.

“Thank you president Trump. We need better leadership than Slotkin. Thank you president Trump," Junge said at one point during the debate.

Meshawn Maddock, co-founder of Michigan Trump Republicans and a national adviser for the president’s “Women for Trump” coalition, said the well-attended event shows the 8th District is ready to take Slotkin’s seat back. Maddock also said Livingston County is “red hot” for Trump.

The event featured a table with Trump campaign merchandise.

Livingston County Commissioner Wes Nakagiri said he’s looking for a candidate whose message lines up with the president.

Slotkin has voted in line with Trump’s position 4% of the time, according to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight. Moderators highlighted Slotkin’s voting record and contrasted it with progressive firebrand U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who voted with Trump 13% of the time.

Nakagiri, who also serves as director of a Livingston County pro-Trump organization, said Slotkin is further to the left than Ocasio-Cortez.

“There’s no litmus test, I want someone who can beat Slotkin,” Nakagiri said.

The Republican hopefuls largely agreed on many of the issues discussed Thursday, standing against “red flag” gun laws, sanctuary cities and government-run health care.

Snyder, who described herself as a “tough and pissed off mom," shared her experience refusing to provide abortion services while working as a nurse in Michigan. Snyder said she would sponsor legislation to refuse public funding to any hospital that does not allow labor delivery nurses to opt-out of performing abortions.

Lyke took it a step further, proposing a bill that would make illegal for anyone to perform an abortion.

Candidates praised the president for killing Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and harshly criticized Slotkin for introducing a House war powers resolution calling on Trump to seek Congressional approval before embarking on further military action against Iran, unless in the case of an emergency.

While each of the candidates scored big applause from the audience, it’s yet to be seen who can marshall the funds necessary to take on Slotkin. After winning one of the most expensive House races in Michigan’s electoral history, Slotkin has $2.8 million in cash on hand for her re-election campaign.

Meanwhile, Slotkin’s five opponents haven’t raised half of one million dollars combined. Junge has most of that sum, who raised $273,418 by the end of 2019, according to Federal Elections Commission filings.

Junge, who briefly served as media relations official in the Trump administration, touted his fundraising ability, saying he is uniquely positioned to take on Slotkin. His campaign organization was recognized by the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of House Republicans.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we all will be good Republican votes but we all need resources to defeat Elissa Slotkin and the left-wing that will do everything they can," Junge said.

Detmer told voters to support whomever they believe in, calling Junge’s boast “absurd” considering much of his money came from family members and a $125,000 loan Junge made to his campaign committee.

Hennessey said Slotkin starts the campaign season with a strong relationship with 8th District voters “built on legislative accomplishment and principled leadership.” Slotkin is holding a Friday town hall to speak with constituents about her work during the last year.

Maddock encouraged voters to show their dissatisfaction at the Friday town hall.

Slotkin’s campaign will kick a volunteer canvassing effort in February to energize supporters and reach swing voters.


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