Michigan 8: Kildee’s Retirement Gives Republicans Another Takeover Opportunity

by Erin Covey November 16, 2023 · 7:04 PM EST

For the first time in nearly 50 years, a Kildee won’t represent mid-Michigan in Congress.

Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee, whose district includes Flint and the Tri-Cities region, announced today that he would not run for re-election, bringing his decade-long career in the House to a close. In a statement, the congressman wrote that his cancer diagnosis at the beginning of the year had led him to reassess his 2024 plans (he was deemed cancer free in April after a successful surgery). 

Michigan’s 8th District already had the potential to feature a competitive race in 2024, since Joe Biden only narrowly won the district three years ago. But Kildee would have been a difficult member to unseat, and his retirement gives Republicans a better chance at flipping the 8th as they attempt to retain their narrow majority in the House next November. 

Kildee succeeded his uncle, Dale Kildee, in Congress in 2013 — the elder Kildee had represented that region of Michigan since 1977. Dan Kildee had served in various municipal offices in the Flint region since he was 18, when he was elected to the Flint Board of Education.

Dan Kildee’s record in Congress — the hallmark of which was his response to Flint’s water crisis — and his family’s well-known name made him a formidable member for Republicans to take down, even as his district was becoming increasingly difficult for a Democrat to win. Though Biden only won this district by 2 points in 2020, Kildee won re-election by 10 points in 2022.

In the hours since Kildee’s announcement, several Democrats have been floated as potential successors.

Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley was the first Democrat to publicly confirm that he’s interested in running, and launched an exploratory campaign this afternoon. 

Democrats are also recruiting Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson to run for the 8th. Swanson made national news in 2020 for joining a march to protest the murder of George Floyd, and was seen as a potential gubernatorial candidate in 2026.

Democratic state Sen. Kristin McDonald Rivet, who represents the Tri-Cities region (Saginaw, Midland, and Bay City), could also run. McDonald Rivet, a former Bay City Commissioner, won a fairly competitive open state Senate seat last November, defeating a Republican state representative by 6 points. Saginaw County Clerk and former state Rep. Vanessa Guerra is another potential candidate.

Martin Blank, a trauma surgeon and Army veteran, is the only Republican in the race right now. Blank ran unsuccessfully for a state Senate seat in 2022 (coming in fourth place in the GOP primary) and for a state House seat in 2020 (coming in second place in the GOP primary).

But Kildee’s retirement makes this a more attractive race for other ambitious Republicans. Tom Leonard, the former state House speaker, is a potential candidate. Former Attorney General Bill Schuette (who represented Michigan’s 10th District from 1985 to 1991) and his son, state Rep. Bill G. Schuette, are both taking a fresh look at the seat. Former state Sen. Ken Horn and 2022 nominee Paul Junge could also run.

The filing deadline for Michigan’s Aug. 6 primary is April 23, leaving several months for both primary fields to develop. But Kildee’s absence is almost certain to make the general election more competitive. 

Inside Elections is changing the rating of the race from Likely Democratic to Tilt Democratic, a shift two categories toward Republicans.