Democratic voters from suburban communities in Wayne County are expected to have more influence than Detroit voters in choosing two members of Congress who will represent the city.
Detroiters make up half the population of the newly-drawn 13th Congressional District and just over a third of the new 12th District. The numbers give Detroit voters the potential to hold a strong sway in who represents them, particularly in the majority-Black 13th District, but candidates are courting suburban voters for two key reasons: Detroit turnout is historically lower than neighboring communities and votes from the city are expected to be carved up between nine candidates who are well-known and well-liked in Detroit.
“When you combine those (factors) – a lot of candidates from the city who already have some (Detroit) support priced in and are more unknown in suburban portions of this district, and turnout rates being higher in many of the suburban parts of this district – that’s why this race gets won or lost outside the city,” said Adrian Hemond, a Democratic political consultant and CEO of Grassroots Midwest.
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This is the first congressional election using new district boundaries created by an independent commission, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the heavy advantage Democrats are expected to hold. Whoever emerges victorious in the Aug. 2 primary is all but assured to win the general election in November.
The new 12th District contains west side Detroit neighborhoods and Dearborn, Dearborn Heights, Inkster, Westland, Livonia and Redford in Wayne County and part of Oakland County, including Southfield. The new 13th District covers east and southwest Detroit, Highland Park, Hamtramck, Downriver communities like Taylor and Lincoln Park, and the Grosse Pointes.
For Black leaders, there’s a lot at stake in the 13th District race. The retirement of U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, means the loss of Michigan’s only Black representative. The 13th District is also the only congressional seat in Michigan serving a majority-Black population.
The race doesn’t have a clear front-runner with only a couple weeks left.
State Rep. Shri Thanedar, D-Detroit, has made a massive investment in himself, loaning his campaign $8 million. State Sen. Adam Hollier, D-Detroit, brought in the second most with an effective fundraising operation and endorsements from influential leaders, including Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.
Focus: HOPE CEO Portia Roberson has Lawrence’s support and Obama administration credentials. Roberson is considered a top-tier candidate alongside Michael Griffie; a civil rights attorney and educator, former state Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo, former Detroit City Council member Sharon McPhail and John Conyers III, son of the late congressman who shares his namesake and represented Detroit in Congress for decades.
Also on the ballot is Sam Riddle, a radio host and political consultant, and Lorrie Rutledge, a businesswoman who owns a natural hair product company.
Congressional candidates filed new campaign finance statements at the end of last week that detail fundraising and spending activities between April 1 and June 30. The filings show Thanedar has more campaign money left to spend than all of his opponents combined.
Low absentee interest in Detroit
Democratic political observers warned early on that Detroit’s chances of maintaining Black representation could be squashed if voters are asked to choose between multiple Black candidates. Splitting votes in Detroit, they said, could create a path for someone like Thanedar.
In the 2018 primary, 22% of Detroit’s registered voters cast a ballot. Just under 49,000 voters participated in a six-way Democratic primary for the old 13th District. Former Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones won the most votes in Detroit, but U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib outperformed Jones outside the city. Jones earned 70% of her votes from the city, while Tlaib earned 49% of her votes from Detroit, ultimately beating Jones by 900 votes.
“That makes way for the suburban out-county voters to make the determining factor of who is going to be in Congress for the (new) 13th District,” said Mario Morrow, a Southfield-based political strategist. “The majority of Detroiters aren’t going to vote. The decisions will be in the hands of a few. I’m surprised there are as many candidates on the ballot. However, each one of these individuals in the top tier have supporters that are telling them ‘do not get out of the race.’”
Absentee ballot returns are being watched closely as one potential sign of voter enthusiasm.
The effect of widespread mail-in voting is still being determined since no-reason absentee voting was added to the Michigan Constitution by voters in 2018. That year was also the last midterm election to compare voting data with, though those kinds of comparisons don’t yield sure conclusions, especially when new maps are in play.
The Michigan Secretary of State released an early look at absentee ballot requests this week. The data showed requests for absentee ballots were disproportionately low in Detroit. The city is home to 36% of registered voters in Wayne County, but Detroiters only represent 23% of absentee ballot applications from the county as of July 18.
One month before the election, 13% of registered voters in Wayne County had requested an absentee ballot. The rate of AV requests is twice that in Grosse Pointe Woods. Only 8% of Detroit voters, or 41,254 people, requested an absentee ballot.
Secretary of State data compared absentee voting two weeks before the election in 2022 with the same timeframe in 2018. Applications for absentee ballots in Wayne County increased by 64% compared to early July 2018. For Detroit, AV ballot requests increased 47%, growing by 13,178 requests.
The data suggests participation in absentee voting will increase much more in some areas outside the city. Livonia, which is in the 12th District, saw a 1,070% increase in absentee ballot requests, growing from 1,487 in 2018 to 17,399 in 2022.
Other large numeric increases in absentee applications among 13th District communities happened in Taylor (6,202), Grosse Pointe Woods (3,612), and Westland (2,498).
Most communities in the 13th District have already voted more by mail than at this point in 2018. Voters in the Grosse Pointes communities turned in 759 more absentee ballots, an increase of 28%.
Detroiters so far turned in 2,796 fewer absentee ballots than in 2018. Detroit voters turned in 60% of their absentee ballots by this time in 2018 but only 35% have done so as of this week.
Three out of four absentee ballots sent to Wayne County voters haven’t been returned to clerks, according to the Secretary of State. Detroit voters have 26,935 absentee ballots that weren’t yet sent to the clerk, the largest amount in the county.
“The last couple of weeks is going to be a real horse race,” said Bea Ward, chair of the Wayne County Democratic Party’s Black Caucus. “Even with the absentee ballots, a lot of people don’t really just jump in and vote. They might wait till the last minute to vote absentee. It’s just hard to say.”
Thanedar, an Indian American and businessman turned politician, is unique among the candidates for not needing to rely on donations to run his campaign. Thanedar has injected more than $8 million of his own money, which could prove to be an important campaign advantage as candidates work to introduce themselves to voters in the new district.
“You can’t discount Shri Thanedar’s chances in this race because of the mountains of money that he’s spent, and seems to be committed to continuing to spend down the stretch in the last weeks,” Hemond said. “It’s an open question of how efficiently or effectively he’s spent that money, but he’s spent a whole hell of a lot of it. You’ve got to figure that’s going to have some sort of impact.”
Virtually all of Thanedar’s campaign funds came from his own pocket. Thanedar loaned his campaign $8.17 million and donated another $10,374, which represents 99.9% of his total fundraising haul. Thanedar only collected $819 from individual donors throughout the campaign.
“Who spends $8 million on himself to become a congressman?,” Morrow said. “Those figures are shocking.”
Hollier raised the most from individual donors, collecting $360,083 between April and the end of June. Donors contributed $868,096 to Hollier throughout the campaign, representing 93% of his total fundraising.
Hollier collected $628,215 from donors with a Michigan address, according to a BridgeDetroit analysis of campaign filings. Donors with a Detroit address gave Hollier $154,586, and Grosse Pointe Farms residents gave him $23,650.
Hollier collected a significant amount of money from outside the 13th District, including $53,178 from Birmingham addresses, $48,150 from Bloomfield Hills, $33,100 from Ann Arbor, and $23,850 from donors in West Bloomfield.
Political Action Committees also gave Hollier $41,200, more than any candidate. National political groups representing veterans, sugar beet growers, indigenous tribes, food and commercial workers unions, and American-Israeli affairs are supporting Hollier with direct donations and campaign ads.
“Adam (Hollier) is a good fundraiser, it’s unfortunate for him that he’s got this self-funder who doesn’t really have to fundraise that he’s got to contend with,” Hemond said of Thanedar. “He’s done a good job of doing the math about who might be likely to support him, reaching out to those folks, making the case and collecting the dollars.”
Thanedar still has $2.2 million in campaign cash remaining. That’s the most of any candidate by a longshot – all of the other candidates have a combined $768,000 to spend before the Aug. 2 primary.
Hollier had $371,043 in cash on hand at the end of June. Gay-Dagnogo had $158,207, while Roberson had $141,612, Griffie had $54,952, McPhail had $32,786, Conyers had $8,908, and Rutledge had $375.
Roberson collected $373,075 from individual donors throughout the campaign, which represents 85% of her total fundraising. Most of Roberson’s campaign cash came from Michigan.
Filings show Roberson collected $317,869 from donors from Michigan addresses, including $189,109 from Detroit and $11,600 from Grosse Pointe Farms. Roberson also collected tens of thousands of dollars from communities outside the 13th District, including $19,900 from Southfield, $8,950 from Lathrup Village, $8,600 from Bloomfield Hills, and $8,059 from West Bloomfield.
Gay-Dagnogo collected $203,692 from donors throughout the campaign, representing 72% of her total fundraising. She raised $177,468 from Michigan addresses, including $108,268 from Detroit addresses.
Griffie raised $351,243 from donors throughout the entire campaign, representing 94% of his total fundraising. Most donors had Michigan addresses, $324,638 total, and Griffie collected $71,080 from Detroiters.
Conyers raised $48,898 from individual donors throughout the campaign, representing 71% of his total fundraising. Conyers also loaned himself $19,801.
McPhail raised $64,610 from individual donors throughout the campaign, representing 91% of her fundraising.
Rutledge raised $3,745 from individual donors in the second quarter of 2022 and she collected $4,120 total from individuals, representing 83% of her total fundraising.
Riddle did not file second quarter campaign finance statements. He told BridgeDetroit in a Friday email that he’s not required to submit financial statements because he’s earned less than the federal threshold of $5,000 in donations or expenditures that would mandate the filings.
Thanedar loaned himself $3 million in the second quarter of 2022. The rest of the field has largely depended on donations, but most candidates have dipped into their own wallets for additional funds.
Gay-Dagnogo supplied her campaign with an $80,000 loan, which accounts for 28% of her fundraising total. Roberson loaned her campaign $50,000 and donated $5,800, which adds up to 13% of her fundraising total.
Hollier loaned his campaign $20,000, representing 2% of his total fundraising. Griffie loaned himself $15,750, representing 4% of his fundraising total. McPhail donated $6,612 to her campaign, representing 9% of her total fundraising haul.
Half of Rutledge’s campaign fundraising came from $4,500 in donations to herself. She raised $8,620 overall.
12th District race
Voters will choose between four Democrats running in the new 12th Congressional District, which represents more than one-third of Detroit residents. U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, is considered the favorite due to her colossal fundraising numbers and strong name recognition.
Thirty-eight percent of Detroit’s residents live in the newly drawn district, which includes more than a dozen of Detroit’s west side neighborhoods, suburbs to the west of the city and part of Oakland County.
Tlaib is challenged by Detroit Clerk Janice Winfrey, Lathrup Village Mayor Kelly Garrett and former state Rep. Shanelle Jackson, who represented a portion of Detroit in the Michigan House from 2007 until 2013.
Tlaib reported having $1.1 million in cash on hand, while Winfrey had $145,328 in the bank and Garrett reported $4,152 left to spend. Jackson did not file any campaign finance reports as of Wednesday.
Morrow said conventional wisdom says the incumbent who has a million dollars to spend on her campaign is likely poised to be reelected. Hemond agreed that Tlaib’s challengers have a lot working against them.
“That’s not to say that (Tlaib) is unbeatable, no one’s unbeatable, but this is a really tough road for Janice (Winfrey),” Hemond said. “Somebody that wants to take out a sitting member of Congress like Congresswoman Tlaib needs to be really well funded from the drop, and it would be very helpful if they didn’t have anyone else in the primary.”
Tlaib raised $429,445 from individual donors between April and June and $2.6 million from donors throughout the campaign. This accounts for 91% of her total fundraising. Tlaib also raised $91,405 from PACs.
Winfrey raised $58,290 from individual donors during the latest reporting period and collected $286,086 from individuals during the campaign, representing 97% of her total fundraising. Winfrey’s campaign collected $7,500 from PACs and she donated $1,000 of her own cash.
Garrett raised $11,462 from individual donors from April to June. Garrett’s campaign is largely being fueled with a $250,000 loan she gave herself.
Tlaib collected $164,940 from donors with Michigan addresses, including $57,555 from Dearborn, $18,190 from Ann Arbor, $17,468 from Detroit, $11,583 from Bloomfield Hills, and $8,250 from Livonia.
Winfrey raised $95,000 from donors with Michigan addresses, including $27,000 from Bloomfield Hills, $12,750 from West Bloomfield, $10,150 from Birmingham, $9,900 from Southfield, and $6,800 from Detroit.