House Democrats believe they’ve found an ideal candidate to run in a newly created swing seat in the Detroit area: a telegenic young mayor from the state’s fourth-largest city, who is also a lawyer with deep roots in the Michigan.
There is only one problem in his biography: until 2020, he was a Republican all his life.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is drafting Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor — who publicly denounced then-President Donald Trump two years ago — as a rookie on a battleground where the GOP is on poised to land one of its most-wanted candidates, according to more than half a dozen Democrats involved in the talks.
But the effort to woo the new anti-Trump mayor has caused consternation among some Michigan Democrats, especially labor groups, who are furious that their party is considering someone who not only backed Trump in 2016 but endorsed likely GOP nominee John James in James’ 2018 bid to oust Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow.
Taylor isn’t the only one on the DCCC’s list. Still, the row over candidate recruitment underscores the depth of Democratic efforts to salvage as many House seats as possible, despite widespread pessimism they may hold a majority after the November election. And it reopens a debate about the extent to which Democrats should embrace Republicans who abandoned the GOP because of Trump’s extraordinary conduct as welcome converts to their party.
For his supporters, Taylor, 38, is seen as potentially their best chance to compete in a critical battleground seat that Trump would have won by less than a point in the 2020 election.
“It’s very important to me that we find a great candidate there who is a perfect fit for the district,” said Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.), who pointed to Taylor’s “political evolution” and what he called a good working relationship. on Macomb County issues. “It’s definitely one of the possibilities.”
Taylor began calling Democrats in the district about a possible race, according to people familiar with those conversations.
But he’s not the only candidate being approached by the House Democrats’ campaign arm in the district. More traditional candidates, such as former state senator Steve Bieda, Macomb County judge Carl Marlinga and Warren council member Angela Rogensues, are on the Democratic national slate, according to people familiar with the talks. . The same goes for Huwaida Arraf, a lawyer and Palestinian American, who is already a candidate.
“The DCCC is in communication with many Democrats and local leaders on the ground. We are committed to electing a Democrat in this district in November,” DCCC spokeswoman Elena Kuhn said. And people close to the DCCC said the campaign arm had no intention of endorsing the primary.
Taylor also declined to answer questions about her potential run, telling POLITICO only, “I think everyone’s interested to see what happens.”
Yet several members of the Michigan delegation described a backlash on the left as their own party sues a candidate who publicly said in 2013 that he opposes abortion rights and Obamacare and supports the laws. on the right to work reviled by the unions. Labor groups are particularly furious that Democrats are backing such a nominee in a district that includes the heart of the auto industry, according to several people familiar with the private discussions.
A 2013 Facebook post outlining all of these positions made the rounds in Detroit-area Democratic circles shortly after Taylor emerged as a potential candidate.
“A baseline for Democrats is, ‘Do you support workers’ rights? Are you against the right to work? said Chris Harthen, a former UFCW Local 876 organizer. just a bridge too far.
“Someone in a posh DC office can tell what a predominantly working-class, middle-class neighborhood is going to be their nominee?” Harthen added. “Not the least, a guy who was just a minute ago a Republican.”
Taylor’s views on those issues have since evolved, according to a Democratic operative familiar with his thinking. He now supports abortion rights, would not repeal Obamacare but thinks it can be improved, and does not support right-to-work laws after frequently interacting with unions as mayor.
The recruiting efforts raise broader questions about the extent to which House Democrats want to tie themselves to the GOP’s dwindling anti-Trump faction. As they are eager to tout defectors like Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) for their support for the investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021 riots, these GOP lawmakers are voting always with their party the vast majority of the time – including blocking Democratic policy priorities.
Some Democrats say the limits of their so-called “big tent” party could soon be tested with a candidate like Taylor, who hasn’t said publicly whether his stance on social issues has changed, even though his allegiance to Trump l ‘did.
“This Taylor guy, I mean I don’t know him, but he’s a Republican,” said David Hecker, president of AFT Michigan, the teachers’ union. “It would not be our choice at all. The problem is, ‘Who?’
“It shows the disconnect between Washington’s Democratic Party elite and grassroots activists,” added Sterling Heights City Councilman Henry Yanez.
Others, however, insist that the goal should be simply to win the newly drawn 10th District. The seat, which includes the blue-collar stronghold of Macomb County, has tilted redder for decades, and some Democrats have privately said the party should be prepared to accept Taylor as a Democrat — albeit a conservative — if it means beating James.
Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), who has a keen interest in Macomb County, which he wore when running for re-election against James in 2020, also made a personal speech to Taylor, according to multiple sources. sources. (Taylor also endorsed Peters in that statewide run.) Levin and Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.) also spoke to Taylor about a potential run, according to a source familiar with the conversations.
Peters’ campaign team noted that he spoke to several “stakeholders and officials” in the district, as part of an effort to ensure Democrats have the best possible candidate. “Sen. Peters will support whoever the Democratic nominee is,” a spokesperson said.
Republicans have been desperate to recruit James, who has twice lost statewide nominations for the Senate but is seen as a star midterm recruit. Attracting James to Congress has been a top priority of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and the party’s super PAC commissioned a poll showing him with a commanding lead in the district.
Taylor burst onto the national scene shortly before the 2020 election, when the former Trump voter revealed he had chosen Biden this time around. In local interviews since then, Taylor has said he has no party affiliation and that his mayoral races are nonpartisan.
But he made it clear he backed Trump in 2016, and some Democrats fear that could make him toxic to primary voters.
“He voted for Trump after the ‘Access Hollywood’ tape came out? How do you think that will play out in a Democratic primary? Because he didn’t give up on Trump until 2020, he owns everything Trump has done so far,” said a Democratic consultant involved in the Michigan races.
Some Michigan lawmakers have also privately said they were not consulted in the extraordinary step of seeking out a newly converted Democrat. Many local Democrats also said they had never heard of the national party effort.
“No one nationally has contacted me about this,” said Ed Bruley, chairman of the Macomb County Democratic Party, although he added that he did not have a position on Taylor. Bruley said he would “welcome” anyone who could win the seat from the Democrats.