Legislative Primary Preview: Michigan

This post is a guest piece by Nick Palmer, who has worked in the Michigan legislature for five years.

Many eyes will fall upon Michigan this coming election season due to the state’s well-documented track record of generating unpredictable outcomes in highly competitive races. Governor Gretchen Whitmer is a top target of the Republican Governors Association, while the state GOP is pledging resources to challenge incumbents Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. The state is also ground zero for the abortion debate as voters may be voting on a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to abortion services, provided it makes the ballot.

Michigan is also home to some of the strictest term limit laws in the country, where an individual can only serve three terms (six years) in the House of Representatives and two terms (eight years) in the State Senate. This has created sky-high turnover where the most experienced legislators can only serve, at most, a decade and a half. An individual can only serve two years in the House and hold the title of Speaker of the Body.

All 148 seats in the legislature are awaiting elections in districts created by the Citizens Independent Redistricting Commission, which Michigan voters approved in 2018. The commission’s top priority was to design the most competitive landscape possible. They constructed districts based on a theory called “communities of interest,” which does not carry a strict methodological definition. Still, this theory was the rationale for their groupings of jurisdictions within the districts, which may be the basis for potential lawsuits in the future.


Senate Districts


District 6

Democratic Primary (Metro Detroit)

Vicki Barnett vs Mary Cavanagh

This became an open seat when incumbent senator Bette Jean Alexander was eliminated from the ballot for falsifying information. This open seat stretches from Oakland County into the City of Detroit. Former State Representative and Oakland County party chair Vicki Barnett was the clear frontrunner. She was expected to earn a passionate challenge from State Rep Mary Cavanagh, granddaughter of former Detroit Mayor Jerome Cavanagh; however, that momentum came to a halt when she was arrested for DUI. Cavanaugh has since raised more money in the last quarter, continuing to add to the lore.

District 8 

Democratic Primary (Metro Detroit)

Marshall Bullock vs Mallory McMorrow

Few Democrats have received more attention in the last three months than Mallory McMorrow. Her impassioned testimony on the Senate floor in which she defended her character from Lana Theis’ deranged portrayal of her as a “groomer” in a fundraising email has earned McMorrow multiple television appearances and invaluable name recognition. McMorrow proved to be a highly bankable candidate on the national fundraising level; she brought in almost half a million dollars in the last quarter. On the home front, she was drawn into the same district as one of her colleagues Marshall Bullock, who previously worked for Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. McMorrow is the favorite, but it’s worth watching her numbers in Detroit as she is in consideration to be a statewide candidate in the future.

District 16 

Republican Primary (Southeastern Michigan)

Joe Bellino vs. TC Clements

A decade ago, this seat would have been competitive if only due to the competitiveness of Monroe County– but in 2022, this seat will be decided in the Republican primary. This member vs. member showdown will feature two state reps looking for a promotion, and this blue-collar area will send a Republican to the senate in 2023. He will be a conservative, but how conservative remains to be seen.

District 14 

Democratic Primary (Southern Michigan)

Sue Shink vs. Kelsey Heck Wood

This new seat around the City of Jackson could be a pickup opportunity for the Democrats, and with no incumbent running on either side, no one has a clear advantage. Chair of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners Sue Shink raised around $157,000, and nonprofit leader Kelsey Heck Wood has raised close to $80,000; both are hard at work to increase the Democrats’ chances of regaining the Senate by winning this new terrain.

District 22 

Republican Primary (Exurban Lansing)

Lana Theis vs. Trump (and Mike Detmer)

This is yet another crossover episode where former President Trump has intervened in a legislative primary. He has been highly critical of incumbent Lana Theis, who sat on the legislative committee that found no fraud in the State of Michigan’s 2020 election results. Her opponent Mike Detmer has the endorsement of former President Trump and other big-name conservatives. Still, she seems ready for a challenge and takes nothing for granted, especially having outraised him by a $188,593 to $19,081 margin in the last fundraising quarter. 

District 30 

Republican Primary (Grand Rapids Area)

Keith Hinkle vs. Mark Huizenga

This is Exhibit A of the Republican primary battle. If activist Keith Hinkle were to tap into the Democratic voting base, his chances would improve drastically. Huizenga has the family name as he is related to congressman Bill Huizenga and connected to the Huizenga manufacturing company. Huizenga raised $87,000 to Hinkle’s $1,860, making him the assumed favorite, but the Kent County GOP has been known to turn the tables. 

District 35 

Republican (Mid-Michigan)

Tom Kelly vs Annette Glenn

This is a race where each of the four Republicans is accusing the other of being a RINO. The frontrunners are Rep. Annette Glenn, whose husband is one of the leading social conservative activists in the state and has amassed almost $200,000 in the last fundraising quarter. Former Rep. Tim Kelly was nominated for a post in the Trump administration but withdrew in light of past blog posts. Small business owner Chris Velaquez has raised $160,330.62 in a run for the seat. This area is trending leftward, but not fast enough for it to be of any consequence this fall– unless, of course, the unexpected happens.

District 37 

Republican Primary (Northern Michigan)

This open seat is replacing one previously occupied by moderate Republican State Senator Wayne Schmidt. The front runners are District 107 Rep. John Damoose, who can self-fund, and former Rep. of District 105 Tristin Cole, who has the support of some Republican backers. But keep an eye on George Ranville, who has raised $91,000, and William Hindle, a local township trustee, who has the support of leading conservative grassroots activists in the region. The minimal cost of media advertising in the Traverse City area means that campaign funds will be able to go a long way.

District 38 

Republican Primary (Upper Peninsula)

Ed McBroom has a firmly conservative record and has shown independent collaboration with some labor unions that hold sway in the district. He also has developed an interest in reviewing state agencies from his post as Chair of the Oversight Committee and was responsible for investigating the 2020 election. Once he issued his report, he drew the ire of former President Trump himself and several other conservative figures. He has two challengers in a district which is larger than almost half a dozen states with the added benefit of high name recognition.


House Districts


District 4 

Democratic Primary (Detroit)

Karen Whitsett vs Dearborn

Rep. Karen Whitsett has given some members of her party a big headache in her previous two terms. She has been a tough vote and often works with members of the other side of the aisle on critical votes, representing an overwhelmingly Democratic district. Whitsett has more than doubled the field in fundraising. The new district now includes precincts in the city of Dearborn. A race with three challengers should make this primary interesting.

District 13 

Democratic Primary (Macomb County)

Lori Stone vs Detroit

A new constituency in a different community can reduce an incumbent’s strength. Lori Stone has been representing the city of Warren since 2018. Her district was redrawn to include a large portion of Detroit, and drawing a single challenger from Detroit could make it difficult for Stone to achieve her last term in the house. Stone only raised under $16,000, but her opponent Myles Miller could generate an upset.

District 29 

Republican Primary (Exurban Detroit) 

Jack Richet vs. James DeSana

This downriver seat had been trending rightward in the Trump years, and this could be the year where the GOP can take seats back in Wayne County again. Small businessmen James DeSana and Jack Richet are running on the GOP side and raised impressive amounts that could cause the state party to put resources into this exurban Detroit area. They will be highly competitive if they can connect to blue-collar workers.

District 38 

Both Primaries (West Michigan)

This is a 50/50 district that extends to the Lake Michigan shoreline and has two Democrats and two Republicans– a perfect bellwether district that may help determine who will control the House of Representatives. This will be one very expensive seat. Kevin Whitford, husband of current State Rep. Mary Whitford has two other Republican challengers, while Annie Brown and Joey Andrews are running on the Dem side. Money is flowing through this district like wine as Andrews, Whitford, and George Lucas have raised more than $90,000 in the last quarter.

District 42 

Republican Primary (Mid-Michigan)

Matt Hall vs. Gary Mitchell

A potential leadership candidate Matt Hall, known best as the insurgent Republican that knocked off an incumbent in 2016, is facing a tough primary of his own for not fighting aggressively enough on the 2020 election results. The Republican establishment has circled the wagons with Hall, raising $146,000 in the last quarter. But challenger Gary Mitchell is still hustling. This will be one of the most watched seats on election night.

District 92 

Republican Primary Open (Mid-Michigan)

This seat has been the white whale for the Democratic Party for decades. Having a large state university, Central Michigan, would seem like a blessing for the Democrats. But against convention, a Republican has held the seat since the turn of the century. Still, the margins in Mt. Pleasant have never reached the level where they can offset the heavy rural agriculture population of Isabella County. Mike Hoadley and Shawn Petri have raised the most on the GOP side and are the frontrunners, but come November, this seat is worth keeping an eye on.

District 95 

Republican Primary (Mid-Michigan)

Bill G. Schuette, the son of the former Attorney General, is looking to jump-start his political career. After flirting with a congressional bid, he chose a safer path to the statehouse. Now, Schuette is the frontrunner to represent his hometown in the House. He may yet realize that ambition if he can get through his primary, where he has raised over $180,000.

District 84 

Republican Primary (West Michigan)

Democrats got a boost in April when Carol Glanville picked up a seat after defeating Robert Regan, who made national headlines with his comments on abortion that led the GOP to abandon him. The same scenario could happen again in this exurban area if Regan can get past his three challengers. If Regan fails, this will be a prime Republican pickup opportunity. John Wetzel has raised over $150,000 with establishment support from the GOP, which is taking no chances in letting this seat slip through their fingers.

District 87 

Democratic Primary (West Michigan)

This primary in a solid Dem seat should be telling to watch because one woman is running in a field of men. If there is a post-Roe boom for non-male candidates, then Deb Warren could be heading to Lansing. Still, Will Snyder has the backing of organized labor and party activities in this working-class area that could be in play in the right circumstances.

District 88 

Republican Primary (West Michigan) 

This seat is a new district where a new challenger has presented a new challenge; Mick Bricker has the energy and support to back his run. This race is a good barometer for incumbents who are in competitive races despite being a good fit for their constituency. District 91 Rep. Greg VanWoerkom has worked the district hard in the last two years and raised over $140,000 in the previous few months to Bricker’s $15,000, but Bricker has also earned an endorsement from former President Trump.

District 105 

Republican Primary (Northern Michigan) 

Ken Borton has had his district completely redrawn, nullifying his incumbency advantage. This area has had two families, the Sheltrowns and Rendons for the last quarter century, making multiple citizens want to throw their hats in the ring, including Diane Randell, who raised over $60,000 last quarter, an amount vs. an incumbent that will get attention.

District 108 

Republican Primary (Upper Peninsula)

This open seat has parts of three districts fused into one. Business Mark Simon is a self-described “America First” candidate. He has built a broad coalition of establishment support that includes unions and congressman Jack Bergman with heavy sway in this working-class area. Also running hard is David Prestin, who has given $50,000 of his own money. And Casey Hoffman, a local county commissioner from the southern part of the district. The primary has two on the western side of the district and two on the eastern side, creating a classic geographical clash across two time zones on who will be seated in Lansing.

District 109 

Democratic Primary (Upper Peninsula) 

This is the last district in northern Michigan that is represented by a democrat and has been since 1954. Navy veteran Joe Boogren has the backing of current rep Sara Cambensy and some unions. Still, Marquette Mayor Pro-Tem Jenn Hill has the support of women and environmental groups. It will be interesting to watch a post-roe message and how it translates to a rural, heavily catholic area that could be a competitive seat.

Detroit Area

This area has the highest metropolitan population anchored by Macomb, Oakland, Wayne, and Washtenaw Counties. In some circumstances, portions of the City of Detroit have been drawn into surrounding areas, creating a “city vs. suburbs” scenario in which candidates can’t rely on a home municipality which could erase an incumbent advantage. With many crowded primaries, it’s not out of the question to have the winner earn as few as 1,200 votes. The open-seat races are the ones to watch due to the presence of power brokers in the communities that desire more legislators-in-residence to get a more significant sway. There are concerns among members of the Black legislative caucus that the inaccurate demographic representation in these districts will lead to unfair races, potentially leading to future lawsuits.


Mid-Michigan has been a Democratic stronghold for generations, in no small part due to the auto workers of the big three (Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors). The region is also home to two large public universities, Central Michigan University and Michigan State University, which brings in an influx of younger, college-educated voters. However, Donald Trump made deliberate gains by appealing to the blue-collar workers and won many of these counties; Gretchen Whitmer was able to win them back in 2018. The results of this area will determine control of the legislature as well as whether or not the statewide Democratic ticket can get a second term.

West Michigan

No area has shifted to the Democratic side more than Kent County, anchored by the city of Grand Rapids. The site is ground zero for the suburban revolt that haunted the Republicans since Donald Trump took office in 2017. State Republicans have maintained most of their legislative seats by significantly smaller margins than they enjoyed in the pre-Trump era. The thing to watch will be what brand of Republicans will emerge from these primaries; if they are decidedly the wrong candidates, the question will be whether or not voters will continue to vote blue even though this business-savvy area is not satisfied with the state of their economy.

Northern Michigan 

In Northern Michigan, the action will be in the Republican primary. There are numerous open seats, which could lead to an increase of new conservative candidates from this region. Just over a decade ago, this area sent conservative Democrats to Lansing, which acted as a moderating influence on their party. This area has active grassroots support on the GOP side, which should increase their likelihood of earning voters in the primary.