After more than 22 years in the US Senate, Michigan’s Debbie Stabenow has decided against seeking reelection as her term expires at the end of next year.
The decision has shaken Michigan politics and created a rare, open Senate seat for Democratic and Republican hopefuls to vie for.
Michigan has been trending blue, and the comfortable reelection campaign of Governor Gretchen Whitmer showed the Democrats’ strength in the Great Lakes state.
But in a presidential year, anything can happen. Donald Trump shocked the nation when he won Michigan – along with Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – in 2016. And he could be in the race in 2024 with an open Senate seat down the ballot – a huge opportunity for Republicans in their quest to retake the state.
Why is Debbie Stabenow not running?
Stebanow, a Senator since 2001, announced in January that she decided to “pass the torch” at the end of her term.
At age 72, Stebanow said she was inspired by a “new generation of leaders” to end her Senate career, citing her own start in politics at a young age.
“For the next two years, I am intensely focused on continuing this important work to improve the lives of Michiganders. This includes leading the passage of the next five-year Farm Bill which determines our nation’s food and agriculture policies. It is also key in protecting our land and water and creating jobs in our rural and urban communities,” she said in a statement.
“I am so grateful for the trust the people of Michigan have placed in me. I am also deeply grateful to my incredible staff, who are the best team in the United States Senate. They continue to set the highest standards for service in Michigan and across our country.”
Officials from across the state heaped praise on Stabenow after she made the announcement.
“As the first woman elected to represent Michigan in the US Senate, she’s been leading the fight for working families, the auto industry, and farmers for a lifetime in Michigan and for Michigan in Washington, DC,” Whitmer said of Stabenow in a statement.
“She continues to stand up for workers’ rights and expand paths to good-paying jobs in the trades, bring manufacturing and supply chains home to Michigan, and work across the aisle as Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee to deliver record, bipartisan farm bills.”
Nee Deborah Ann Greer, Stabenow began her political career after being elected to the Ingham County Commission in 1974 at the age of 24. She then served in the State Legislature before being elected to the US House of Representatives in 1996.
In 2000, Stabenow successfully challenged incumbent Republican Senator Robert Spencer, and since then Michigan has been represented by two Democrats in the US Senate.
She has been serving on some key committees, including as the chair of the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, where she advocated for protecting the Great Lakes.
She has co-authored dozens of bills and amendments that were signed into law, including funding childhood nutrition programs and supporting farmers.
Stabenow and the Middle East
Stabenow has been a close friend of the Arab American community while remaining a reliable pro-Israel vote in the Senate.
In 2019, she voted for a resolution to end US support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. And two years ago, she joined colleagues in urging President Joe Biden to “demand that Saudi Arabia immediately and unconditionally stop the use of blockade tactics”.
She voted against the Iraq war in 2002 and has been an advocate for refugees.
But the senator has been a supporter of efforts to penalise boycotts of Israel – laws that free speech advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union, say violate the First Amendment of the Constitution.
Last year, she joined other lawmakers in denouncing Amnesty International for accusing Israel of imposing a system of apartheid on Palestinians, describing herself as a “strong supporter of Israel”.
After a strike authorized by then-President Donald Trump killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani early in 2020, Stabenow called on the White House to pursue a “meaningful strategy” on Iran in consultation with Congress.
“Soleimani was responsible for the death of many American service members and inciting chaos throughout the Middle East. However, a single action without a meaningful plan will lead to more risk for Americans at home and abroad,” Stabenow said at that time.
Who will replace Stabenow?
The race to replace Stabenow will be on the same ballot as the presidential contest in 2024 – a potential Biden-Trump rematch.
It remains unclear whether Democrats will find a consensus candidate or have a competitive primary. So far, some key potential candidates, including Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, have ruled themselves out of the race.
Centrist Democratic Congresswoman Elisa Slotkin is reported to be preparing a Senate bid.
Other possible candidates include Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell and State Senator Mallory McMorrow.
Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, progressive who previously ran for governor, has said he does not intend to run for the Senate next year.
On the Republican side, Congressman John James has been the Republican nominee for the Senate in the last two races. He may well run for a third time.
Other possible hopefuls on the Republican side include former congressmen Peter Meijer and Fred Upton and ex-attorney general Bill Schuette.