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Michigan's 8th Congressional District race is viewed as a "toss up"

Clockwise from the right, Democrat Dan Kildee (incumbent), Republican Paul Junge, Working Class Kathy Goodwin, Libertarian David Canny
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
Clockwise from the right, Democrat Dan Kildee (incumbent), Republican Paul Junge, Working Class Kathy Goodwin, Libertarian David Canny

There’s a familiar name on the November ballot for voters in Mid-Michigan’s new 8th congressional district.

But there’s a chance the “Kildee” seat in Congress might be at-risk.

Dan Kildee has been campaigning hard this year, shoring up his support among his traditional Democratic base, including at a Labor Day picnic hosted by union leaders.

“The communities we live in were built by the labor movement,” Kildee said, drawing applause from the pro-union audience.

Dan Kildee ranks the economy as one of the main issues for Michigan voters going into November.

“Clearly, there’s always concerns about the economy,” said Kildee, “Thankfully we’ve had some results recently that were focused on how we support the manufacturing and agricultural economy of this area.”

Among other things, Kildee touts new federal support for semi-conductor chip manufacturing in mid-Michigan.

There’s been a Kildee representing this part of Michigan since 1977, starting with Dale Kildee. Dan Kildee succeeded his uncle in 2013.

But that streak is at risk. The Cook Political Report has labeled the 8th district as a “Democratic toss up,” largely because of redistricting.

That's forcing Dan Kildee to knock on doors in Midland County, part of which is now in the 8th district, and a solidly Republican stronghold. It's leading to some uncomfortable exchanges on people’s doorsteps, like this one in late August.

“Hey how are you? I’m Dan Kildee.”

“Yeah, I know,” said the person who answered the door, “And I’m pro-life and I can’t support you.”

Abortion is likely to be a key issue in the 8th district race. Kildee backs Democratic efforts in Congress to circumvent the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Republican Paul Junge has the endorsement of Right to Life of Michigan. Junge says decisions on regulating abortion should be handled at the state level.

“There will be states, much to my unhappiness, that are going to continue to support unlimited abortion up until birth,” Junge said, “But there will be other states that say no, that’s not OK. And I think we should in this kind of laboratory of democracy let the state’s work those things out.”

Junge, a former TV news anchor, criminal prosecutor, and government official is making his second run for Congress. Two years ago, he ran and lost in a different part of the state.

Junge says his supporters see this election as a referendum. Not just on Dan Kildee, but on Democratic leadership in Washington.

“General uneasiness and concern about the direction of the economy and in the general direction in the country. A real feeling that their voices aren’t being heard. A real feeling that we really don’t have competent leadership. Not just in Congress but in the White House,” said Junge.

Libertarian Party candidate David Canny gives an unexpected answer when asked why he wants to be in Congress.

“I don’t want to be in Congress. The last place in the world that I want to be is in Washington, D.C.,” said Canny.

Canny says he’s running to promote libertarian policies, including opposing federal gun control and climate change proposals.

A fourth candidate on the ballot, the Working Class Party's Kathy Goodwin, is making her third run to represent the part of mid-Michigan where she grew up, but where she no longer resides.

Paul Rozycki is an emeritus political science professor at Mott Community College in Flint. He’s been an observer of local politics in Genesee County for more than half a century.

He says Kildee may lose his seat because of redistricting. Rozycki adds Kildee’s been running all year like he might.

“He’s always had Genesee County, Flint, UAW, and all that,” said Rozycki, “But when I noticed an ad where Dan Kildee was with a farmer talking about what he’s done for farmers, that was a totally different kind of angle, but it does represent that change in his district.”

For his part, Kildee is not complaining about the more competitively drawn district.

“I’m pretty philosophical about it,” said Kildee, “This district makes sense as a district. Whether the people choose me to be their voice is up to them.”

Voters in the redrawn 8th district decide November 8.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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