LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a member of the Democratic leadership, announced Thursday that she will not run for a fifth term in 2024, a surprise decision that opens up a seat in the key battleground state.
The news shocked many Democrats in the state because the 72-year-old Stabenow had not previously indicated that she would not seek reelection. Stabenow‘s impending retirement turns Michigan’s next Senate race into one of the most competitive in the country as Democrats try to preserve their slim majority.
“Inspired by a new generation of leaders, I have decided to pass the torch in the U.S. Senate. I am announcing today that I will not seek reelection and will leave the U.S. Senate at the end of my term on January 3, 2025,” Stabenow said in a statement.
Democrats will face a test to find a candidate with Stabenow‘s broad support. On the GOP side, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which works to elect Republicans, said in a statement after Stabenow’s announcement that it would “aggressively target this seat in 2024.”
While the current political climate in Michigan favors Democrats following a midterm election where they flipped the state House and Senate, the state is still expected to be one of the nation’s premier battlegrounds in the 2024 presidential election. Only one Michigan Republican has held a seat in the Senate in the past 40 years.
Among the Democrats whose names began circulating after Stabenow’s announcement are Pete Buttigieg, the federal transportation secretary who ran for president in 2020 and moved from Indiana to northern Michigan last year to be closer to his husband’s family; Elissa Slotkin, a congresswoman first elected in 2018 and coming off a decisive victory in November in one of the country’s most competitive House districts; and state Sen. Mallory McMorrow, who has seen her profile rise since going viral with a speech denouncing Republicans over “grooming” accusations.
Buttigieg said in a statement that he was “fully focused” on his Cabinet post and was “not seeking any other job.”
Stabenow joined Congress in 1996 after serving in the Michigan Legislature. In 2000, she made history by becoming the first woman to be elected senator in Michigan, defeating a Republican incumbent. She turned back GOP challenges in 2006 and 2012 and defeated Republican John James by 6.5 percentage points in her last election in 2018. James was elected to the House in November.
Stabenow is the longest-serving member of the state’s congressional delegation. She is chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, making her the No. 3 ranking party leader, and heads the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.
Stabenow most recently has been involved in bipartisan legislation aimed at increasing oversight of cryptocurrencies. She has also led efforts to expand and increase funding for mental health care both nationally and in Michigan.
Praise for Stabenow began pouring in after her retirement announcement.
Democratic Gary Peters, the state’s junior senator who has served with Stabenow since 2015, said she would leave a legacy “as a champion for children, women and families, workers, manufacturing and our auto industry, mental health care and the Great Lakes.”
Buttigieg said Stabenow was “a force in the Senate” while McMorrow called her a “trailblazer.”
“No one has been more instrumental in building the infrastructure of the Michigan Democratic Party to this historic moment we’re in today,” McMorrow said.
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