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Could redistricting turn the Thumb's congressional seat from Deep Red to Purple?

Clockwise from the top right: Republican incumbent Lisa McClain, Libertarian Party Jacob Kelts, Working Class Party Jim Walkowicz and Democratic Party Brian Jaye
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
Clockwise from the top right: Republican incumbent Lisa McClain, Libertarian Party Jacob Kelts, Working Class Party Jim Walkowicz and Democratic Party Brian Jaye

Voters in Michigan’s Thumb will decide if they want to retain their incumbent Republican congresswoman in November.

But the redrawn district now includes more Democratic leaning voters from Oakland County.

As she campaigns for re-election, incumbent GOP Representative Lisa McClain says what’s important to voters in the Thumb is clear.

“If I listen to the people that are in my district, it’s three things. It the economy, the economy, the economy,” said McClain, “Everything right now is revolving around the price of things.”

McClain says Washington should be doing more to rein in inflation.

She represents the sprawling district that stretches from the tip of the Thumb south to some of Detroit’s northern most suburbs.

McClain won her congressional seat two years ago, as a dedicated supporter of then President Donald Trump. In fact, she was one of three Michigan members of Congress who voted against certifying the 2020 election results from Arizona and Pennsylvania.

And McClain’s support for the former president continues.

“Who is excited to see our favorite president today...” McClain asked an excited crowd of Trump supporters at the former president’s rally in Warren on October 1, a little more than five weeks before the November election.

“I spoke to President Trump about this rally....and about our fight here in Michigan to turn this state red,” McClain said, which drew cheers from the audience.

Brian Jaye thinks McClain’s ties to the former president may provide a path for a challenger in a district redrawn to include more Democratic voters. Jaye is the Democratic nominee in the 9th district. He believes Thumb voters are listening to negative stories about the former president.

“I think its affected voters,” said Jaye, “And I think it could hurt her in November.”

Jaye sees abortion as a key issue in the campaign. McClain says the issue should be left up to the states. Jaye supports Democratic-sponsored legislation in Congress to put abortion rights protections into law...something he thinks has more support than might be expected in the 9th district.

“On my dad’s side of the family there’s a lot of Republicans. On my mom’s side, there’s a lot of Democrats,” Jaye said as he sat in a restaurant near Romeo, “But one thing I’ve seen correlate and stay consistent is that a woman doesn’t like to be told what to do with her own body.”

Jaye has his own challenges to overcome, including that he lives a couple miles outside the newly drawn district.

Meanwhile, Libertarian Party nominee Jacob Kelts has an odd admission, as he runs to unseat Republican Lisa McClain.

“Well, the funny thing is I voted for her two years ago,” said Kelts with a hearty laugh.

The electrician-turned-first time candidate with the Seth Rogan laugh says he decided to run against McClain this year because of her support for the National Defense Authorization Act and her vote against marijuana legislation.

There’s also one more name on the ballot.Jim Walkowicz is the Working Class Party nominee in the 9th congressional district.

David Dulio is a professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for Civic Engagement at Oakland University. He believes McClain’s challengers face an uphill battle. Dulio notes, despite changes brought on by redistricting, the Thumb remains deeply Republican and pro-Trump.

“When you’re talking about the former president carrying the district in 2020, the old district in 2020 by 30 points versus 18 points in the newly configured district. That’s still a solid seat for me,” said Dulio.

For herself, McClain says she’s focusing her time on introducing herself to new voters.

“I am spending more time in the new part of my district just because I don’t know them and they don’t know me,” said McClain.

9th congressional district voters will decide in November who they want to spend the next two years getting to know and representing them in Washington.

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.