As at least one Republican begins laying groundwork for a challenge against U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow in the 2018 election, the two-term incumbent says she’s not planning to actively campaign for the time being.
“Right now I’m just doing my job,” Stabenow said during an interview with MLive at the Mackinac Policy Conference last week. “I have always believed, as someone who’s lived in Michigan my whole life, that the best thing I can do is go to work every day and fight for Michigan.”
Stabenow, who was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2000 after defeating Republican Spencer Abraham and easily won two subsequent reelection efforts, is seeking reelection to her seat in November 2018.
Recent campaign finance data from the Federal Election Commission shows Stabenow has $4.3 million of cash on hand in her campaign fund $1.3 million of which was raised in 2017.
Speculation has swirled around who might seek to challenge Stabenow in 2018 on the Republican ticket. The first to publicly make a decision was Lena Epstein, a former Trump campaign co-chair in Michigan who used the Mackinac Policy Conference to up her profile and begin fundraising efforts.
Epstein, a 35-year-old Bloomfield Hills resident and co-owner of Vesco Oil Co., released a three-part economic policy plan at the conference – implementing a one-time 5 percent tax on U.S. companies operating overseas, setting the corporate income tax at 15 percent for all businesses and cutting personal income taxes by at least 10 percent for all income brackets.
Epstein said she decided to run because the 2016 election made it clear that Americans “no longer want politics as usual.” She said her campaign has kicked off a nationwide fundraising effort, and she’s also working to make introductions and inroads throughout the state.
“Today, I am the Republican Party’s sole candidate for U.S. Senate,” she saidin a Thursday interview. “We’ve been strong in our efforts out of the box, and we have an exciting 17 months ahead of us.”
Other Republicans are reportedly still considering or being courted to run in the race. Crain’s reports a group of Republicans are working to recruit Detroit businessman John James for the race, and others, including former state Supreme Court Justice Bob Young, have shown interest.
An early name thrown into the mix was U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, who has said he’s flattered about the speculation but doesn’t have a timetable for making a decision on 2018.
Stabenow said she’ll focus more on the campaign next year, once she has a formal opponent and the election date gets closer. Until then, she said she’s keeping herself busy with work on the next farm bill, fighting for funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in the federal budget and working on health care policy in the Senate.
Following the results of the 2016 election, Stabenow said people are getting engaged “in a way that I haven’t seen in a long, long time” and expressed confidence that political activism would continue into the 2018 cycle.
“I think we will see a very different group of people showing up in 2018, and people who are much more activated,” she said. “Now they’re realizing they have to be involved.”