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Former Defense Official Taking on Michigan’s Mike Bishop

Elissa Slotkin is former acting assistant secretary of Defense

Elissa Slotkin worked in defense and intelligence in the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. (
Elissa Slotkin worked in defense and intelligence in the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. (

Former Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense Elissa Slotkin announced a challenge to Michigan GOP Rep. Mike Bishop in the 8th District Monday.

Slotkin left government service and moved back to her family’s farm in Holly this spring, where she now runs her own consulting firm. 

She spent nearly 15 years working in defense and intelligence under both former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. She began her career as a Middle East analyst for the CIA and served three tours in Iraq. 

Democrats targeted this seat in 2014 and 2016 without success. Bishop won his second term last fall by 17 points. President Donald Trump won the 8th District by nearly 7 points last fall. 

“I may not love the messenger they chose, but I got the message,” Slotkin said. “We need to hear that — Democrats and Republicans,” she said, adding that both parties need to change the way they think about the Midwest.Slotkin said the grassroots in the district has been energized since Trump’s election.Those voices helped clinch it for me that this was the right moment,” she said. The House’s health care vote in May solidified Slotkin’s decision. “I am a big believer in the government, our system of government,” Slotkin said. “I’m not ready to give up on it.”

Despite her extensive national security background, Slotkin isn’t talking much about foreign policy. (All she said was that it’s shaped her “service first” mentality.) 

“People here are really focused on the economy, the future of jobs in this state and health care,” she said. “People appreciate my background but it’s not what’s central to their lives.”National Democrats are excited about Slotkin’s candidacy, but she says she’s trying to keep her operation as local as possible. “We learned some important lessons from the last election,” she said. “The way Washington thinks races need to be run is not necessarily the way to run a campaign.”

Change Media, based in Lansing, Michigan, is handling media for Searcy. Adelstein Liston produced her introductory video, the Strategy Group is handling mail and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research is doing polling. 

Slotkin fully expects to be tarred as a carpetbagger. Bishop’s team compared her to Georgia Democrat Jon Osoff, who didn’t live in the 6th District and lost the special election there last month.

“Take a Hillary staffer, transfer them into a district, and see what happens,” Bishop spokesman Stu Sandler told the Detroit News. “It didn’t work in Georgia. I think the voters are skeptical. That was a huge issue for Ossoff. They didn’t feel he had ties to the district, and felt it was a political stunt.”

But Slotkin doesn’t see the attack sticking, arguing that she grew up and attended school in the district. Her raised cattle on their farm, and her grandfather’s Hygrade Foods company founded the Ballpark Frank.

Slotkin never mentioned Bishop by name, instead referring to the incumbent as “my representative.” She doesn’t have a budget yet, but thinks she’ll need to raise “upwards of $2 million” for the whole campaign.

First, though, Slotkin could face a crowded Democratic primary. Environmental lawyer Darlene Domanik has already announced a bid. Michigan State University’s professor Chris Smith and former Eaton County Commissioner Linda Keefe are considering running.