2020 Election

Michigan Dem Relies on Coastal Support to Flip Congressional Seat

Hillary Scholten's 'grassroots' campaign turns to New York operatives and D.C. power players

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A Michigan Democrat has turned to Washington, D.C., operatives and Hollywood activists to bankroll her "grassroots" congressional bid.

Out-of-state contributions from the coasts, as well as staffers and institutional support from Washington, D.C., and New York, have propelled congressional candidate Hillary Scholten into a near tie with her Republican rival Peter Meijer in a race that national Democrats see as a prime pickup opportunity to preserve their House majority. Less than one-third of her donations have come from Michigan since the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced its organizational and fundraising support for the campaign.

The reliance on out-of-state support stands in contrast to Scholten's campaign pitch. Her website focuses on a "West Michigan" life story that places her family and Christian faith at the center of her campaign. "West Michigan is my home—I was born and raised here, am deeply involved in the faith community here, and I feel like I would be a great representative," Scholten told the Detroit News. "I can't think of a more broken place than Washington, D.C.," she later told ABC 13.

But when Scholten launched her congressional bid, she turned to veteran New York and Washington, D.C., political professionals and Democratic megadonors to help bring "Western Michigan" to the capitol. Her top paid staffers arrived in Michigan fresh from New York. Only $336,000 of the more than $1 million Scholten has raised comes from in-state donations, meaning more than two-thirds of her campaign's donations between July 2019 and July 2020 came from outside of the state, according to her most recent election filings. California and New York donors gave a total of $183,000 to her campaign during that time period. Her finance director and campaign manager also both come from New York.

Scholten's campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the out-of-state support.

The DCCC added Scholten to its "Red to Blue" program in late June, offering institutional support from the national arm of the Democratic Party. The designation helped Scholten draw the attention of Hollywood and major liberal interest groups. Scholten held a virtual fundraiser with actress and political activist Alyssa Milano in May. Scholten also received endorsements from Emily's List and NARAL Pro-Choice America, two of the most prolific liberal organizations in the country.

Scholten moved back to Michigan in 2017 shortly before launching her congressional run after working for the Department of Justice under the Obama administration. The race represents a potential pickup for House Democrats in a highly contested battleground state. Libertarian congressman Justin Amash won a solid victory in the district in 2018, but the outspoken Trump critic announced that he would not not seek reelection in Michigan. President Donald Trump won the district by 10 points in 2016, and current projections have Meijer ahead by 1 point.