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6 Incumbents Facing The Strongest Primary Challengers

July 26, 2016

In three of the last four primary elections, a sitting office holder lost his seat to a challenger, raising the obvious question of whether any of the current 25 incumbents facing a primary challenge is at risk this Aug. 2.

The answer: Not likely. 

Based on research and interviews compiled by MIRS, six challengers are doing enough on-the-ground work and campaigning to be viewed as viable threats, although in every case, the incumbent is still viewed as the favorite. 

Throughout the state, a similar theme is emerging. Some of the 25 challengers are visible, but the power of incumbency is expected to hold. 

Conservative challenges to Rep. Kathy CRAWFORD (R-Novi) and Rep. Daniela GARCIA (R-Holland) leave upsets there as a slim possibility. In Detroit, all but one incumbent is facing a primary challenge, but most, like Rep. Wendell BYRD (D-Detroit), are facing multi-candidate fields, meaning opposition against a particular candidate is splintered. 

In other districts, like the primary challenge against Rep. Andy SCHOR (D-Lansing), the opponents have done little to no campaigning. Other candidates, like Southgate School Board member Rebecca REED in the 13th District, have a good résumé, but maybe haven’t been as active as they’d need to be. 

Those upset in the last three primaries — former Reps. Frank FOSTER, Kurt DAMROW and Ted HAMMON — saw their defeats coming. Lee CHATFIELD (2014) and Jim SLEZAK (2008) worked their tails’ off. Rep. Ed CANFIELD (R-Sebewaing) benefited from running against a majorly flawed candidate. 

Nonetheless, the six incumbents tackling the most aggressive challengers include: 

1. Rep. Larry INMAN (R-Williamsburg) – The first-term House member in the 104th was a little late in hitting the doors, setting off alarms earlier this summer that conservative blogger Jason GILLMAN could pull the upset he didn’t manage in 2012 against then-Rep. Wayne SCHMIDT. However, more recent reports have the threat against Inman stabilizing. 

2. Rep. Brian BANKS (D-Harper Woods) – If Banks didn’t work so hard, the 1st District incumbent would be in a lot more trouble than he is. Facing criminal charges for allegedly forging check stubs to secure a loan, Banks rallied the leadership of most traditional Democratic interest groups by his side for a press conference within 24 hours. That’s impressive. 

That said, Pamela SOSSI is working the non-Detroit portion of this district hard and Washington YOUSON is working the Detroit portion. Sossi, who was endorsed today by the Associated Builders and Contractors, is raising and spending money and recently became the subject of a hit piece of accusing her of not being a Democrat. Someone is not taking her for granted. 

Banks may very well survive the primary. Whether he’ll survive the criminal charges is a different matter. 

3. Rep. Rose Mary ROBINSON (D-Detroit) – Robinson has never lost an election in the city of Detroit and it’s hard to see her getting fewer votes than anyone else in this seven-candidate Democratic primary field. However, it’s notable that Quincy JONES has been doing some campaigning with Mayor Mike DUGGAN and was endorsed by the Detroit Chamber of Commerce. 

But Robinson still has the UAW and both congressional district Democratic parties. She’s also wildly popular with constituents who remember her generosity or the help she’s given through her many years in Detroit. 

4. Rep. Lee CHATFIELD (R-Levering) – The type of moderate voter who wanted Foster re-elected in 2014 are generally trying to get Kathy TWARDY, a Sault Ste. Marie commissioner, to unseat the conservative Chatfield. It looks likes Chatfield has fired up the similar campaign operation that pulled off the 2014 win and that’s a tough adversary to compete with. 

5. Rep. John KIVELA (D-Marquette) – Like Inman, Kivela was a little late to activate his re-election campaign, but Marquette City Commissioner Sara CAMBENSY would be in much better shape if she’d started before April, as well. 

Most of the local labor infrastructure is lining up behind Kivela, an interesting change since they either supported his first primary opponent in 2012, Tony RETASKIE, or stayed on the sidelines. 

6. Rep. Mary WHITEFORD (R-South Haven) – On paper, Tea Party organizer Abigail NOBEL in a one-on-one match-up would seem to be a notable challenge in the conservative 80th District. However, Whiteford is running just as hard today as she did in the 2015 special and the regular 2014 election, giving her the type of head-start is make her a heavy favorite. 

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