LANSING, Mich.—As politics junkies pore over the day-to-day polling changes in the battle for the Senate, a lesser-known House district in Michigan is setting records for spending.
The race in Michigan's redrawn Seventh Congressional District, which pits Democratic incumbent Elissa Slotkin against Republican challenger Tom Barrett, a state lawmaker and military veteran, has emerged as one of the most hotly contested in the country. Together, spending from both sides totals nearly $27 million.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee alone dropped nearly $5 million to save Slotkin, more than the group has spent anywhere in the country. Nearly 1 out of every 22 dollars spent on a House race this cycle has gone to the battle over this district.
Slotkin likely never anticipated such a close race. She currently represents Michigan's eighth district, but newly drawn districts moved her to run in the seventh, which is slightly more Democratic-voter-heavy than her old home. Biden's plummeting approval ratings, along with the nation's shaky economy, however, have nearly negated that advantage.
The district is in many ways the perfect swing district, encompassing the full spectrum of voter types—there are urban voters and college students in Lansing, but also rural voters in surrounding counties, including farmers and blue-collar factory workers.
Republican nominee Barrett, who sat down for an extensive interview with the Washington Free Beacon, says the race will ultimately be decided by Slotkin's voting record, which is 100 percent aligned with President Joe Biden and 96 percent with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.). Though Slotkin and her supporters have spent millions touting her record on jobs and protecting abortion rights, inflation remains the top concern of Michigan voters leading into Election Day—a fact Barrett thinks will be hard for Slotkin to escape.
"Elissa Slotkin has a voting record she needs to be held accountable for," Barrett said. "She put Joe Biden first 100 percent of the time, I'm running to put the people and the families of my district first."
A Southfield, Mich., native, Barrett served in the U.S. Army for over two decades and was stationed in Guantanamo Bay and Iraq. He was elected in 2014 to the Michigan legislature and says he has an actual record of bipartisan votes rather than just claims of them.
"I've stood up to my own party on issues over the years, I don't lie to people," Barrett said. "I'm a conservative because I feel conservative solutions are best to solve the problems we're facing in this country, but I have an independent voting record separate from my own party, and I'm gonna go to Washington and be who I am."
Barrett finds himself in a competitive face-off with Slotkin in part thanks to the new district lines drawn by an independent commission. Political operatives in Michigan say the new map was created with an eye on giving Democrats a better chance to win a majority in the state Senate, which Republicans have controlled for decades, in exchange for not locking in congressional Democratic incumbents. With the current political environment, the new maps have both Slotkin and longtime Democratic representative Dan Kildee in danger of losing their seats.
Another headache caused by the new map is that Slotkin didn't initially live in the district. To be eligible as a candidate, Slotkin rented an apartment owned by a friend and campaign donor who also happens to work as a lobbyist. That arrangement is the subject of attack ads from Republicans, who accuse Slotkin of voting for bills that steer money to the lobbyist's company.
"I tell people that my living situation is not nearly as complicated, I just live at home with my wife and kids," Barrett quipped. "We're the only two registered voters at our house."
These challenges help explain why Slotkin is pulling out all the cards she has in the last weeks of her campaign. Earlier this month, Republican Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) announced her endorsement of Slotkin, the first Democrat she has ever publicly backed. Cheney on Tuesday will appear on the campaign trail with Slotkin for an event titled "Evening for Patriotism and Bipartisanship."
Calling Slotkin "bipartisan" is risible, Barrett says. He alleges that much of Slotkin's resistance to Biden's agenda is only rhetorical and that most of her campaign surrogates, such as Rep. Jamie Raskin (Md.), are dyed-in-the-wool partisan Democrats.
Footage obtained by the Free Beacon of an Oct. 22 campaign event that Slotkin did with Raskin features the two delivering speeches that appear more fit for a home in a Washington, D.C., suburb than a purple midwestern district. In her opening remarks, Slotkin laments the "conservative counties" surrounding Lansing and says Raskin asked whether he should deliver more moderate remarks. Slotkin said, "No," and asked Raskin to give the audience "the real deal."
Raskin proceeded to attack the Second Amendment and say the Constitution doesn't guarantee any right whatsoever to individual gun ownership. "You only need to read the Constitution to determine how flawed a concept that is," Raskin said. He also called for abolition of the Electoral College and said many Trump supporters were "semi-fascists."
Slotkin's campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the event, which is just one of many examples that Barrett says reveal his opponent's true nature.
Slotkin "wants it both ways," pitching herself as a moderate while also placating the Democratic Party base, Barrett says. On student debt forgiveness, for example, Slotkin criticized Biden's bailout as a "band aid" for the problem but then said she was "happy for the folks who will get relief."
"She says, 'Oh, you know, we need to provide relief for people, but this doesn't do it in the right way or go far enough,'" Barrett said. "I've opposed it. It is unfair for truck drivers and waitresses to buy college degrees for Ivy League graduates like Slotkin." Slotkin graduated from Cornell University with a degree in sociology and then obtained a graduate degree from Columbia University.
Slotkin's image as a thorn in the side for Democratic leadership also is undermined by the effort that the party is putting into keeping her in Congress. Although Slotkin regularly attacks Pelosi and the party establishment, they are some of the largest boosters of her campaign.
No Democrat in Michigan, and few around the country, have received more money from the Pelosi-run House Majority PAC. As of late October, the House Majority PAC spent over $1,215,000 on Slotkin's race, which together with the spending from the DCCC brings the spending for Slotkin to nearly $6 million.
Slotkin's campaign has also managed to raise over $9 million itself and still has over $2 million in cash on hand to spend in the campaign's final days, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Barrett, on the other hand, has already spent nearly all of the $2.5 million his campaign raised. But Barrett says he never thought he'd win the money battle.
"Slotkin probably has a Federal Reserve printing press in her basement. She's raising and spending a ton of money, and we're just trying to keep pace to get our message out to voters," Barrett said. "But we feel we'll win this race and get America back on the right track."