A competitive race for an open House seat is taking shape in a Michigan battleground district

Former Michigan state Sens. Curtis Hertel Jr. and Tom Barrett will face off for the 7th Congressional District

Joey Cappelletti
Monday 10 July 2023 13:00 BST

Former Democratic state Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. on Monday will announce a campaign for Michigan’s 7th Congressional District, one of the nation’s most competitive House districts.

Hertel and Republican Tom Barrett, who launched his second run for the seat Sunday night, are the first to announce bids for U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin's seat. Slotkin, a Democrat, announced earlier this year that she would seek Michigan's open U.S. Senate seat.

Michigan’s 7th District was home to one of the nation’s most expensive contests last year, with Slotkin beating Barrett, and both national parties have already vowed to again go all out to win the battleground district in 2024.

Hertel was recruited by Slotkin to run for the seat and will announce his candidacy in Lansing. He represented Lansing and East Lansing in the state Legislature from 2015 to 2022 before being term-limited. He briefly served as Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s director of legislative affairs before stepping down from that role on June 30.

The 45-year-old Hertel comes from a family of officeholders. His father, a brother and two uncles served in the Legislature, and a third uncle was in the U.S. House. He defined his family's legacy as “a strong belief in Democratic ideals but also a willingness to work across the aisle to make things better.”

“We need to be able to debate and listen because, at the end of the day, we have to find the best middle ground to actually solve problems for people,” Hertel told The Associated Press in an interview before his announcement.

Barrett launched his second bid for the seat after losing the district to Slotkin by more than 5 percentage points last year. The 42-year-old Barrett served in the Army for more than two decades before entering politics and representing mid-Michigan in the state Legislature from 2015 to 2022.

In an interview with the AP, Barrett said his last campaign was hampered by a weak top-of-the-ticket gubernatorial candidate and a significant fundraising disadvantage. He said he expects an improvement in both areas next year.

“It’s not going to be a cakewalk. This is a very competitive district," Barrett said. “But I have my own lessons learned along the way, and I know a little more what to expect running in such a high-profile congressional race.”

Michigan’s 7th District, which underwent redistricting before the 2022 midterms, is a blend of Republican-dominated counties such as Clinton and Shiawassee and Democratic strongholds like Ingham, which is home to the state Capitol and Michigan State University.

Slotkin's comfortable victory last year in what was expected to be a narrow contest has made her a favorite to replace Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who announced in January that she would be retiring after serving four terms. While several other Democratic candidates are challenging her for the Senate seat, no high-profile Republican has stepped forward.

Slotkin has promised to help the Democratic candidate in her House district and said in a recent interview with the AP that she is “dedicated — to the point of obsession — in keeping this district because we can flip the House in 2024 with the seat being held.”

Losing the seat could put the majority out of reach for Democrats and expand the Republicans’ narrow cushion in the House. The National Republican Campaign Committee, the campaign arm of House Republicans, has said it plans to go “all hands on deck” to win the district in 2024.

Democrats in Michigan won nearly every competitive congressional race last year, even flipping a House seat in Grand Rapids for the first time since the 1970s. Barrett attributes the losses to a weak top of the ticket with statewide candidates who were endorsed by former President Donald Trump.

“The top of the ticket should be far more competitive next year,” Barrett said. “My name ID is also considerably higher, and I don’t need to necessarily introduce myself to people the same way.”

Hertel has the advantage of having represented parts of Ingham County, which holds close to half the district’s population and which Slotkin won by nearly 36 percentage points. He plans to have an “aggressive field campaign” that centers on “individual voter contact."

“If you’re going to ask people for their vote — and ask people to serve them — they should have an opportunity to meet you, talk to you, ask questions and have you listen to what they care about,” Hertel said.

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