MI-08: House Democrats got some tough news on Thursday when Rep. Dan Kildee, who represents a swingy district in central Michigan, announced his retirement. In a statement, Kildee said he had been "planning another campaign" but explained that his diagnosis of skin cancer earlier this year had prompted him to "reassess" his plans. The congressman added that he is "cancer-free" following surgery and expressed confidence that Democrats would hold his seat.
But that won't be an easy task. Michigan's 8th District, which includes Flint and the area known as the Tri-Cities, is very evenly divided turf that supported Joe Biden by a slim 50-48 margin. Last year, Republicans spent millions in the hopes of flipping the seat, though Kildee hung on by a surprisingly comfortable 53-43 margin.
The result was in part a reflection of Republican Paul Junge's weak ties to the region and, conversely, Kildee's strong connection. His uncle, Dale Kildee, represented the area in Congress from 1977 until his own departure ahead of the 2012 elections, when the younger Kildee took over. Dan Kildee had long served in local office himself, first winning a spot on the Flint Board of Education when he was just 18, followed by 12 years on the Genesee County Board of Commissioners and another dozen as county treasurer.
When Kildee sought to succeed his uncle, the district was numbered the 5th and looked rather different. (In fact, it's changed dramatically over the years the two have represented it, though it's always included Flint.) It was also much, much bluer: In 2012, Barack Obama carried it by a 61-38 margin, and Kildee won his first term 65-32. But by the end of the decade, Biden was winning the same district just 51-47, and that spread narrowed further following the most recent round of redistricting. Kildee's own reelection campaigns kept growing tighter as well.
But Mid-Michigan's shift has chiefly been attributable to an increasing preference for Republicans among working-class white voters, especially since Donald Trump came on the scene. That is the crux of why retaining this district will be a particular challenge for Democrats, especially without Kildee's personal strengths: Now that the seat is open, the district has shot up on Daily Kos Elections' House Vulnerability Index from being the 30th-most vulnerable to being tied with two others for 3rd-most.
Republicans had yet to land any notable challengers to Kildee, but now both parties will hustle to put strong candidates on the board. Michigan's primary, however, is not until Aug. 6, with a candidate filing deadline in late April.