War and Impeachment Raise House Freshman Profile to Rare Heights (1)

Elissa Slotkin is defying the advice often given to House freshmen to stick to local issues and avoid the national spotlight.

The Democratic lawmaker, whose central Michigan district voted for President Donald Trump, has been out front on two politically polarizing issues. Her call for an impeachment inquiry was key in House Democrats’ decision to launch the probe of the president last fall. More recently she sponsored the War Powers Resolution (H. Con. Res. 83) to limit Trump’s authority to strike Iran, which the House passed largely along party lines.

Her outspokenness is rooted in her experience as a CIA officer and a national security official under two different presidential administrations, with a focus on the Middle East.

Slotkin said she knew her positions would be controversial in her district — she had to install two new phone lines and bring in some temporary staff in her D.C. office just to manage the high call volume. But she decided it was important to step up on issues where she had expertise, even if it might cost her votes.

“There are some things that just have to be beyond politics,” she said in an interview. “If I spent my time looking at polls and trying to only be doing my job through a political lens, then I don’t think I’d be doing my job as a leader.”

(Photo by Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/Bloomberg)
Rep. Elissa Slotkin

Her stands alienated some Republicans while galvanizing her supporters.

Constituents booed and applauded Slotkin in town halls last year after she penned an op-ed calling for an impeachment inquiry with six other members. They did so again at the town hall where she announced she would vote for impeachment.

“Casting the votes with your fellow Democrats is one thing,” said Saul Anuzis, a former chair of the Michigan Republican Party. “But then when you become very vocal on it and politicize it and be a leader from a political perspective, it takes it to the next level.” He said Slotkin may lose GOP voters she will need to get re-elected.

At the same time, she announced raising $1.3 million in the three months following her support of an impeachment inquiry, and strategists on both sides of the aisle acknowledge she has yet to draw a serious Republican challenger.

Her more prominent stances likely have helped with some groups of voters, such as female Republicans in the Detroit suburbs, said Dennis Darnoi, a GOP strategist in the area. But, he said, it will also energize Republicans who oppose her stances.

“There’s maybe a small net beneficial to take such a high-visibility role,” he said. “But it’s not coming without a surge on the other side as well.”

Local Issues

Current and former lawmakers acknowledge it can be risky for swing-district incumbents to lead on national partisan issues, but it can help if they are just as involved in the local ones.

Steve Israel , a former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair, said most voters have already decided where they stand, but a small group — he estimated it at one-fifth of the electorate — will be open to localized messaging. Slotkin, he said, is “a guru to other members on how you combine the two priorities.”

“That 20% tend to focus more on local issues than national issues,” Israel said. “She is providing constituent services, she’s a problem solver, and the risk is reduced by her attentiveness to that 20% on local issues.”

DCCC Chair Cheri Bustos , who advises members in competitive districts to campaign like they’re running for mayor, said Slotkin has balanced national and local issues “masterfully.” She added that Slotkin, like other freshman Democrats with national security and military backgrounds, prioritize making the call they think is best on tough votes.

“They are motivated to do the right thing whatever the consequences are,” she said. “They don’t fear people not voting for them if they know they’ve done the right thing.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Wilkins in Washington at ewilkins@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bennett Roth at broth@bgov.com; Kyle Trygstad at ktrygstad@bgov.com