Michigan’s 8th District race will help determine future of abortion rights and gun laws

A resident votes at the Zion St. Joe United Church of Christ on Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020, in St. Joseph, Mich.

With six-term Democratic U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee retiring after the current term, voters in Michigan’s highly competitive 8th Congressional District will choose a new representative this November. Political analysts say the race is one of a handful of toss-up contests that will likely determine which party holds a majority in the House of Representatives next year. 

The district includes areas northwest of Detroit, including the cities of Flint and Saginaw.

While some potential candidates are still considering whether to run, several have already announced they are running.

The Democrats

State Board of Education President Pamela Pugh announced in November that she was dropping her bid for Michigan’s open U.S. Senate seat and joining the House race. Her campaign site has no issues page, but she told the Detroit News last May that she backs abortion rights and tweeted her support in August for gun violence legislation, including a federal assault rifle ban.

State Sen. Kristen McDonald Rivet said on Jan. 3 that she will run for Congress, citing protecting abortion rights as her motivation for running. Noting that Republicans have proposed a federal ban that would overrule Michigan law, she said, “If that happened at the federal level, it would undo everything we’ve done in Michigan, and I think it’s important to stand up.” She has backed laws to keep firearms away from dangerous individuals, including voting for Michigan’s new laws that require background checks, mandate child safety locks, and allow the temporary confiscation of weapons from those judged to be an imminent danger to themselves or others.

Nonprofit executive Dan Moilanen, a former Genesee County Democratic Party chair, joined the race in December. His issues page states that he would “Codify Roe v. Wade into law, protecting bodily autonomy for all.” In a September 2020 Facebook post, he endorsed a ban on firearms in the Michigan Capitol, writing, “The Capitol building is a place of work and NO ONE should feel unsafe where they work!” In an email response, Moilanen said, “As a hobbyist who likes to shoot, I think we can find common sense solutions to help reduce gun violence in this country that still allow responsible gun owners like myself to purchase and own firearms.” He specifically endorsed background checks, red flag laws, and greater regulation of semi-automatic weapons and magazines.

Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley, a former state representative, said in November 2023 that he will form an exploratory committee to consider joining the race. He does not appear to have a campaign site yet, but has previously endorsed reproductive rights. In a June 2022 statement denouncing the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturned Roe, he said, “As the father of two daughters, I believe everyone should have a right to choose.” Neeley is a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a national coalition that works to curb gun violence. “Guns in the wrong hands have devastated families and communities across this great country,” he wrote in February 2023. “We need to do more and we will do more.”

The Republicans

Martin Blank, a trauma surgeon and police officer who placed fourth in a four-way 2022 Republican primary for the state Senate seat now represented by McDonald Rivet, announced his House candidacy in October 2023. His campaign site contains no issues page, but Blank told the Midland Daily News in July 2022 that he opposes new gun laws: “I support the 2nd Amendment as written. … If opponents of the 2nd Amendment want to take a constitutional right away from their fellow citizens, they should follow the orderly process the Founding Fathers created.” He said he supported prosecuting individuals who perform illegal abortions and backed a ban on the procedure as long as it included an exception to “protect the life of the mother.”

Paul Junge, a former prosecutor and local Fox TV anchor, was the unsuccessful Republican nominee for the 8th District in 2020 and 2022. He announced in November 2023 that he will make a third bid in 2024. His campaign site says that if elected, Junge would “serve as a pro-life, pro-Second Amendment conservative leader.” On his issues page, he vows to “fight efforts that attack lawful gun ownership, whether by unconstitutional red flags laws or any other means” and falsely claims that “statewide Democrat elected officials have supported allowing the decision of whether a baby lives to be made even after that little life is outside of the womb.”

According to the Detroit News, former state House Speaker Tom Leonard, former state Sen. David Robertson, and state Rep. Bill Schuette may also join the Republican primary field.

Updated Jan. 9 at 4:09pm EST to include a comment from Moilanen.