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Candidate background, partisan makeup shaped Michigan’s 7th District outcome

Elissa Slotkin speaking at a campaign stop with her logo posted on the podium and the wall behind her
Arjun Thakkar
Democratic Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin speaks during a press conference Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022, at her campaign’s headquarters in East Lansing after winning relection.

The November midterm elections were one of the first tests of Michigan’s newly drawn congressional districts following the 2020 census.

Michigan’s Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission drew the 7th District to be one of the most competitive in the state and in the nation with a slight Democratic lean. If the district were in use in 2020, voters in the area would have voted for President Joe Biden by less than 1% during the general election.

When Democratic Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin was reelected Nov. 8 to represent the new district, she beat Republican state Sen. Tom Barrett by about 20,000 votes. That’s a stronger performance than when she won in her previous two elections.

Michigan State University Economics and Political Science professor Jon Eguia says the election’s results were not surprising. He says the district could be a target for both political parties hoping to win control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Both parties see typically their majorities that they’re gonna win clearly would run through winning districts like this nationwide,” Eguia said.

The district was a target for Democrats to hold and for Republicans to flip. The race drew over $36 million in spending, making it one of the most expensive congressional races this year. Multiple national figures, including Republican Rep. Liz Cheney and former Vice President Mike Pence, also weighed in on the race.

MSU political scientist Matt Grossmann says the race leaned more Democratic than expected, but that the district remained highly competitive. He says the partisan makeup of a district serves as a baseline that could sways based on other factors.

He explains the district could shift if the nation trends towards Republicans, but an environment favoring Democrats would produce a less tight race.

"The nation and the state did not seem to be trending as much toward the Republicans as expected, and therefore it wasn't as competitive," Grossmann said.

Grossmann says statewide races and proposals, such as the governor's race or Proposition 3 which aimed to codify abortion rights in the state constitution, could have also had a down-ballot effect and boosted Slotkin's performance.

The individual candidates also played a substantial role in shaping the outcome of the race. Eguia says it's difficult to challenge an incumbent, which could have stunted Barrett's campaign.

He acknowledged Slotkin’s bipartisan appeal made her "particularly well-suited to run in this kind of district."

“The fact that she did better now is not a surprise at all," Eguia said. "We would expect her to do better here than what she would have done in the old district eight that was more rural and less urban.”

Grossmann says the way voters perceive Slotkin could be a "self-fulfilling prophecy" for future races. He says Barrett was "a high quality candidate," but with Slotkin winning by a larger margin than in previous elections, voters could see her as a strong candidate. That would limit her opposition.

"Republicans might not be able to recruit as good of a candidate next time because Elissa Slotkin outperformed this time," Grossmann said.

Eguia says he expects the district to remain competitive in future cycles.

Arjun Thakkar is WKAR's politics and civics reporter.
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