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Barnes wins reelection, Senate hopefuls mingle at Michigan Democratic Party convention

Maxim Jenkins

The Michigan Democratic Party kept its eyes on the future at its state convention this past weekend.

The main order of business was deciding who would lead the party for the next two years.

Party Chair Lavora Barnes easily won reelection to her post after a challenger didn’t make it to the final round of voting.

Barnes said she wants to spend her next term getting more directly involved, now that the worst stages of the COVID-19 pandemic are past.

“I think one of the biggest things is ... just to spend time all over the state having conversations with Democrats where they are and not just our organizers on the ground but also me,” Barnes said after the convention.

Democrats are coming off major wins in the 2022 November election. But a Senate race coming up in 2024 is already casting a shadow.

Potential candidates began declaring their interest last month after current Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow announced her plans to retire.

Stabenow said she’d like to see it not become a crowded field.

“We’ve got all the seats are term-limited in four years: governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general. So, there are a lot of options for folks that are talented so we’ll have a lot of discussions and just have to see,” Stabenow said Saturday.

One candidate whose name has become a mainstay in the will-they-won’t-they discussions over the race is U.S. Representative Elissa Slotkin (D-MI 7).

She’s coming off one of the most expensive House races in the country in which she bested former state Senator Tom Barrett to hold on to a competitive district.

Slotkin said there are several pieces that need to fall in to place before she decides whether to jump into the U.S. Senate race.

“You have to have a ton of volunteers, you have to have a great staff, you have to have money to pay them, you have to have a sense of who are … what we call 'grass tops' in a community that you need to engage with. So, it’s those kinds of things I’m still in the middle of really looking at,” Slotkin said.

Another prominent figure in Michigan politics who has announced a consideration for running is Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist II.

Like Slotkin and some others, he made the rounds at Saturday’s convention, speaking to the party’s various subgroups.

“What I’m talking about in all these caucus meetings is about the historic investments that Governor Gretchen Whitmer and I continue to deliver that we’re going to be able to do in an even more muscular way with these Democratic majorities at the state level. And so I’m proud we get the chance to be productive. So, I’m thinking about a lot of things,” Gilchrist said when asked about the factors he’s weighing in making a bid.

Meanwhile, state Senator Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) has spent much of the last year with her political star on the rise. She saw a major fundraising boost after a clip of one of her floor speeches went viral.

When asked at the convention if folks had been encouraging her to run, she said she’d have “a lot more to say soon.”

“My view has always been where can I make the biggest impact. I ran really hard for this job, I flipped a district for this job, I’ve been talking about the importance of state Legislatures for the past year, and we have a majority for the first time in 40 years,” McMorrow told reporters.

The race has also attracted the attention of some potential first-time candidates. One making his case for the Senate Saturday was Metro Detroit businessman Nasser Beydoun.

He pledged to fight for working-class Americans if he succeeds in his bid.

“America is an adopted country that basically gave me hope and opportunity, allowed me to aspire and succeed. And I think that that America — my America is everyone’s America, and that we should be able to offer that to anybody in this country,” he said.

Beydoun said though he hasn’t held office before, he’s been around politics in volunteering capacities before.

Similarly, actor Hill Harper is also likely looking to make the U.S. Senate his first elected office. Harper, who stars in the ABC show The Good Doctor, spent much of Saturday’s convention getting his name out.

It will be Chair Barnes’ responsibility to shepherd the party through the primary process. She said the party won’t play favorites with the candidates despite the large field.

“I’m absolutely having conversations but really I am not about discouraging any Dem who feels the fire in their belly to run for office from running for office. I think we’re a big tent party and everyone’s welcome and I’m thrilled to have as many people as we know to have the credentials to be able to run for the U.S. Senate,” Barnes said.

Barnes said she expects to see the primary race spark enthusiasm among party members.

Another potential cause of excitement is Michigan's planned early presidential primary election.

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