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Politicos must do some fast thinking if they want Rogers’ seat

A political stunner slapped all of our political cheeks awake this morning, just like that scene with Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone.

The news? Seven-term Republican Congressman Mike Rogersannounced he is retiring from Congress. Retiring from Congress, but not the political circus. He is going to start a national radio show devoted to foreign policy and national defense, which is his bailiwick as the Chairman of the powerful House Intelligence Committee.

Rogers is also a well-known talking head. Last year, he appeared more than any other elected officialon the Sunday morning news circuit. And he’s got the TV sound bites down, just last week on Meet the Press, saying Russian President Vladimir Putin, “goes to bed thinking of Peter the Great and wakes up thinking of Stalin.”

It’s not just how fond he seemed of Congress that is what makes Rogers’, who represents Lansing, Brighton, Howell and parts of Northern Oakland County, announcement so surprising, but his fondness in particular for the House of Representatives. In fact, there was speculation last year that the reason he didn’t jump into the race for Carl Levin’sopen Senate seatwas because he enjoyed his job in the House so much.

But, now, Rogers joins the aforementioned Sen. Levin and dean of the House, Congressman John Dingell, on the retirement train. Huge Michigan names, big politicos all leaving elected office in the same year.

The big question: What happens now in the Fighting Eighth Congressional Congress? Well, fights.

With Rogers out, both Republicans and Democrats will see an open Eighth as attainable. It has a 53/54-ish percent Republican base. The edge goes to the GOP. But this year, without a well-known incumbent, it could go either way.

In fact, just a few hours ago, the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call rating of the seat went from “Safe Republican” to “Lean Republican” saying even though the, “Eighth District  is just developing, the district’s fundamentals suggest a Democratic opportunity without Rogers on the ballot.” Though, we should note, for Democrats turnout will be key for this race. As we know, Republicans vote typically in higher numbers in midterm elections – when there isn’t a presidential race at the top of the ballot.

It was a different district when Rogers first won his seat in Congress in 2000 against Democrat Dianne Byrum by less than 200 votes. In fact, it was that year’s closest congressional race anywhere in the country.

Now Dianne Byrum’s daughter, Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum, says she is among those looking at the seat. Byrum had her name in the news extensively this past week as she performed the state’s first legal same-sex wedding.

Meanwhile, Mike Rogers’ brother is a term-limited state representative. Could we be in for another Byrum vs. Rogers race? No matter what, there are a lot of politicians asking themselves at this very moment, “What do I want to be when I grow up?”

No matter what, they certainly will have to decide quickly. The filing deadline is just about three weeks away on April 22. In that time, they’ll have to ramp up a campaign operation, recruit volunteers, and start gathering nominating petition signatures. They’ll need 1,000 valid signatures, and fast.

They’ll also have to assess the field, consider geography, where the votes are, who else might run – and that’s in both the August primary and the November general election.

In a wide-open field, historic allies, friends, and neighbors are now being reassessed as potential adversaries. We’ll make this prediction: There are people today who are friends who will not be by the end of the summer.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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