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August Primary: Democrats face an uncertain choice in Michigan's 8th Congressional District primary

blue, purple, and red gradient behind three black and white cut out images of kristen mcdonlad rivet, Pamela Pugh, and Matt collier.
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From left: State Sen. Kristen McDonald Rivet, state Board of Education President Pamela Pugh, and former Flint Mayor Matt Collier.

 Michigan voters have already started casting ballots ahead of the August primary.

Perhaps the biggest contest on the ballot is the Democratic race in the 8th Congressional District.

Last November, incumbent Democratic congressman Dan Kildee surprised many when he announced he would not seek re-election in 2024.

The decision marked the end of decades of Kildee family control of the mid-Michigan congressional seat, and possibly along with it, a half century of Democratic control of the seat representing Flint.

The 8th District, which stretches from Democratic strongholds in Genesee County to solidly Republican Midland County, is seen as a toss-up.

A white woman wearing a white jean jacket speaks at an outdoor podium
Steve Carmody
Michigan Public
“We have to talk about our fundamental rights. We have to talk about gun violence," said State Sen. Kristen McDonald Rivet, "But people really want folks who are gonna roll up their sleeves and figure out how to make it easier to live in the middle class.”

“Hi everybody. Welcome, please feel free to gather round,” a speaker told a small crowd gathered last month on the Saginaw County courthouse lawn to mark the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

At the rally, State Sen. Kristen McDonald Rivet (D-Bay City) related the importance of the 8th district race to the abortion debate.

“In this toss-up U.S. House race, we have pro-choice Democrats running against anti-abortion extremists. Period. That is the choice that’s on the ballot,” McDonald Rivet told the pro-choice crowd.

McDonald Rivet is one of three candidates vying for the Democratic nomination in the 8th Congressional primary. The others are state Board of Education president Pamela Pugh and former Flint Mayor Matt Collier.

While each candidate placed reproductive rights as a top issue in November, McDonald Rivet sees the economy as the key issue in the Democratic Party primary.

“We have to talk about our fundamental rights. We have to talk about gun violence,” said McDonald Rivet, “But people really want folks who are going to roll up their sleeves and figure out how to make it easier to live in the middle class.”

A Black woman wearing a green dress stands in front of a lot of microphones
Steve Carmody
Michigan Public
"Economy, economy, economy," says State Board of Education president Pamela Pugh, "It doesn’t matter what neighborhood you’re in. it doesn’t matter what sector I’m talking to…it is about the economy.”

McDonald Rivet says congress needs to do more to address the cost of housing, saving for retirement and paying for prescription drugs.

Pamela Pugh announced her plans for the 2024 election early in 2023. But at the time, Pugh’s plan was to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Senator Debbie Stabenow. But plans change. After Kildee’s retirement announcement, Pugh switched her campaign to the 8th district.

Sitting in a Saginaw coffee shop, Pugh discussed what she sees as the top priority in the 8th district Democratic primary.

“Economy, economy, economy.” Pugh said, “It doesn’t matter what neighborhood you’re in. It doesn’t matter what sector I’m talking to. It is about the economy.”

Pugh contends “economic dignity for all” and a family sustaining wage are essential to a good quality of life. She cites investing in education as key to addressing the economy.

Pugh and McDonald Rivet both currently serve in high profile elected offices.

For Matt Collier, it’s been nearly 40 years since he was elected Flint’s youngest mayor back in the 1980s. Since then, the West Point grad has worked in the private sector, as well as the Obama administration.

“My story starts here on the ice in Flint, where you learn how to pick yourself up when life knocks you down,” Collier said in his first TV campaign commercial, showing him playing hockey at a local ice rink.

A white man wearing glasses and a light blue button-down shirt sits in a restaurant booth, smiling at the camera
Steve Carmody
Michigan Public
“There’s pressure (to keep the 8th congressional district seat)... on the Democratic side," said former Flint Mayor Matt Collier, " to retain the seat for this country….for the sanity of this country.”

Sitting in a Flint diner, Collier said keeping the seat, long-held by Dale and Dan Kildee, Democratic is important.

“There’s pressure — but not because of the Kildee family — more because on the Democratic side to retain the seat for this country, for the sanity of this country,” said Collier.

The former mayor said political divisions in Washington has resulted in the current session of Congress being one of the least productive in U.S. History.

Paul Rozycki is a retired political science professor at Mott Community College. The longtime observer of Flint regional politics says the August primary winner may face a significant challenge keeping the eighth district in the Democratic column in November.

“I have a hunch that in many ways you could take a look at the 8th District and see it as a mirror of some of the dissatisfaction that’s rumbling across a lot of the country in the last almost eight years,” said Rozycki.

Rozycki expects the 8th district will be the most competitive race in Michigan this fall.

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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