The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow won’t seek reelection in 2024

The longtime Michigan senator’s exit will leave an open seat in a swing state

Sen. Debbie Stabenow speaks during a canvass launch for Democratic congressional candidate Hillary Scholten at Scholten’s campaign office in Grand Rapids, Mich. on Nov. 6. (Evan Cobb for The Washington Post)
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Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow said Thursday that she won’t seek reelection in 2024, creating an open Senate seat in the swing state of Michigan.

“Inspired by a new generation of leaders, I have decided to pass the torch in the U.S. Senate,” Stabenow said in statement. “I am announcing today that I will not seek reelection and will leave the U.S. Senate at the end of my term on January 3, 2025.”

“When my term ends, I intend to begin a new chapter in my life that includes continuing to serve our State outside of elected office while spending precious time with my amazing 96-year-old mom and my wonderful family,” she added.

The 72-year-old said her decision to leave Congress is in part tied to wanting to give a new generation the opportunity to lead.

“Under the cloud of unprecedented threats to our democracy and our basic freedoms, a record-breaking number of people voted last year in Michigan,” she said. “Young people showed up like never before. This was a very hopeful sign for our future.”

After the news of Stabenow’s pending departure, a person close to Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), speaking on the condition of anonymity because decisions are not firm yet, said the lawmaker was seriously looking at running for the seat.

Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.) is also looking into a possible run for the seat, according to a person close to her speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Both women flipped red seats blue in 2018 and have held onto them for two more election cycles, although it’s unclear whether their appeal would translate statewide.

Democrats, who hold a slim 51-49 majority in the Senate, face a tough challenge in 2024 with the terms of 21 senators expiring that year, including ones in the red states of Montana and West Virginia. Senate Democrats have yet to name a chair for their campaign arm, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Its previous chair, Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), praised Stabenow Thursday as a “tireless” advocate for the state and expressed confidence the seat would stay in Democratic hands — in part due to a healthy Democratic ground game operation Stabenow has helped build.

“It’s still a battleground state but the significant advantage we have is we have … a number of high quality potential candidates,” Peters said. “It’s very clear we have a very deep and talented bench and that’s simply not the case on the Republican side.”

The 2022 midterm elections did not go well for Republicans running statewide, Peters noted.

Among the potential candidates for the open seat are Republicans Tudor Dixon, who lost the governor’s race to Gretchen Whitmer (D) last year, and Rep.-elect John James (R), who lost to Stabenow in 2018. On Wednesday, James gave a nomination speech for beleaguered Speaker candidate Kevin McCarthy, attracting kudos from some of his colleagues on the floor afterward.

On the Democratic side, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., and a 2020 presidential candidate, moved to Michigan in July. His name immediately emerged as a possibility.

Buttigieg praised Stabenow on Thursday and said he’s focused on his Cabinet position.

“Senator Stabenow is a force in the Senate and fights every day to make life better for Michiganders and all Americans,” he said in a statement. “I am fully focused on serving the President in my role as Secretary of Transportation, and not seeking any other job. We are hard at work to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, grow the economy, and create good-paying jobs.”

Stabenow has not said whether she’s planning to endorse a successor.

In 2000, Stabenow became the first woman from Michigan elected to the Senate. She has spent much of her time in Washington focused on boosting her home state’s auto industry. An owner of an electric vehicle, she has pushed for tax credits for the autos.

She is a member of the Democrats’ leadership team and is chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Peters, who called her a mentor, said she is one of the hardest workers in the Senate.

“For the next two years, I am intensely focused on continuing this important work to improve the lives of Michiganders,” Stabenow said in a statement. “This includes leading the passage of the next five-year Farm Bill which determines our nation’s food and agriculture policies. It is also key in protecting our land and water and creating jobs in our rural and urban communities.”

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) praised Stabenow and her tenure.

“No one embodies the true Michigan spirit more than Debbie Stabenow. From the state legislature to the House of Representatives, and for the last two decades in the United States Senate, Debbie has made a difference for Michiganders every step along the way,” Schumer said in a statement.

David Bergstein, spokesman for the DSCC, told The Washington Post on Thursday that he is confident Stabenow’s successor will be a Democrat. “In 2022 Michigan Democrats won resounding statewide victories, and we are confident Democrats will hold this Senate seat in 2024,” he said.

Mike Berg, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, suggested that the GOP will take the seat that Stabenow won in 2018 with more than 52 percent of the vote.

“We are going to aggressively target this seat in 2024,” he said in a statement. “This could be the first of many Senate Democrats who decide to retire rather than lose.”

Liz Goodwin and Marianna Sotomayor contributed to this report.