Michigan state lawmaker enters crowded U.S. House race as Democrats aim to defend open seat

Michigan state Sen. Kristen McDonald Rivet on Wednesday became the fifth candidate to enter a competitive race for a U.S. House seat that Democrats are being forced to defend without an incumbent because of U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee’s retirement this year.

Defending the seat could be vital for Democrats in a year in which they need to gain at least five seats to win a majority control of the U.S. House. The party will also need to defend a vulnerable mid-Michigan seat left vacant after U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin opted to run for an open U.S. Senate seat this year.

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While the state has shifted increasingly Democratic in recent years, a contested presidential election and open Senate race are expected to make Michigan one of the few swing states in 2024. Democrats in Michigan have also been divided in response to the war in Gaza, with the state’s large Arab American population vowing not to support those who don’t call for a cease fire.

The 65-year-old Kildee announced in November that he would not seek another reelection to his 8th District seat after he was diagnosed earlier this year with a curable form of cancer that he has since had removed. Kildee has represented the Flint-area since 2013 after succeeding his uncle, Dale Kildee, who had served in Congress for 36 years.

The recently redrawn district extends northward from the outskirts of Detroit, covering areas such as Flint, Saginaw and Midland.

State Board of Education President Pamela Pugh and Dan Moilanen, the executive director of the Michigan Association of Conservation Districts, have announced in the weeks since Kildee’s retirement that they will seek the Democratic nomination.

On the Republican front, Paul Junge, a former TV anchor, is set to make another bid for the seat after losing by more than 10 percentage points to Kildee last year. Saginaw trauma surgeon Martin Blank is also seeking the Republican nomination.

McDonald Rivet enters to race just one year into her first four-year term in the Michigan Senate. Her win in a competitive district covering Midland, Saginaw and Bay City helped Democrats flip the state Senate last year and win control of all levels of government for the first time since 1984.

In a Tuesday interview with The Associated Press prior to her campaign announcement, McDonald Rivet shared that Kildee had called her, revealing his decision to step aside and encouraging her to run for his seat.

“I came to the conclusion that right now, in this time when we’re seeing chaos reign over pragmatism in Washington, this is a good time for me to go to Congress to try to get some of the stuff done,” McDonald Rivet said.

As the former executive director of the Michigan Head Start Association, McDonald Rivet said that she plans to introduce a large package of bills aimed at making childcare more accessible and affordable in the upcoming legislative session. If elected to Congress, she hopes to continue that work.

“The work that I’ve done throughout my career really centers around Michigan families,” McDonald Rivet said. “As a mom of six, I really can relate to what that means when you start thinking about how much childcare costs.”

Mike Marinella, a spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Campaign, said in a statement Wednesday that McDonald Rivet is a “career politician who is out-of-touch with the voters of Michigan.”

If successful, McDonald Rivet’s campaign could prove bittersweet for Michigan Democrats. The party controls the state Senate by only a two-seat margin, and her exit from the seat could set up a tough race in one of the state’s most competitive districts.

The party is also fighting to retain control of the state House, which moved to a 54-54 deadlock in November after two Democrats won mayoral races in their districts. Special elections for the seats will be held in April.

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