Lansing (Great Lakes News) – When State Rep. Shane Hernandez (R-Port Huron) announced his candidacy in the election for the 10th Congressional District, he was the first candidate with an established reputation. That changed with the addition of retired Brigadier General Doug Slocum to the contest.
General Slocum’s entrance into the race builds the framework for a clash between between himself and Hernandez, a conflict that will come to define the 2020 primary for Michigan’s 10th Congressional District. Both candidates lack common name recognition among Republican voters in the district, but bring their own distinct advantages to a potentially tight race.
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A few weeks before either Hernandez or Slocum announced their candidacy, political strategists Strategic National released a simple poll of Republicans in Michigan’s 10th Congressional District. According to MIRS, the poll showed that most voters do not know who either candidate is with a slight advantage to Hernandez. 68 percent of the 300 polled Republicans did not know who Slocum was and 64 percent did not know who Hernandez was. The lack of recognition, even among Republican voters, makes for an interesting challenge for both campaigns.
Strategic National claims that once voters learned that Slocum was a retired general, their opinion shifted drastically. A straight head-to-head poll found that Hernandez won the election by 2-points, with a vast majority of voters remaining undecided. When the poll included their titles, Representative for Hernandez and Brigadier General for Slocum, respondents gave Slocum a 12-point lead.
Slocum served in the United States Air Force for 35 years, logging over 4,100 flying hours in a variety of aircraft. His administrative career focused on constructing safety curriculum for air force personal, earning him several accolades including an induction into the Air Force Safety Hall of Fame in 2013. His political media relies heavily on his time in the military, with his campaign announcement telling the story of his deployment during 9/11.
“I was leading a training program when the first tower was hit,” Slocum said. “We were called into action to defend our home from whatever might be coming next. We cut the locks off of a facility that hadn’t been used in years, scrambling to arm our jets. Without weapons or being fully equipped, if something happened, we were ready to do whatever it took to defend freedom.”
The ad then pivots to the current political situation in Washington, building a parallel between the attack on 9/11 and the efforts by Democratic Representatives to impeach the president.
“Now our nation’s values are under attack again,” Slocum said. “This time, we see it coming. Washington is being overrun by politicians driven by their own self interests that do not represent the values I fought to protect. Professional politicians so consumed by endless investigation and impeachment, that they are failing the people they were elected to serve. Our nation is under attack, and I’ll do what it takes to defend it.”
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Whether this messaging will resonate with voters remains to be seen, but Michigan’s 10th Congressional District has a history of supporting president Trump. The 10th made headlines in 2016 as one of the critical “pivot” districts that voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and Trump in 2016. While the district has shown strong support for Republican candidates ever since, the district holds the potential for Democratic victory. This presents a unique opportunity for Slocum. Most data shows that the advantage granted to former military in campaigns comes in purple districts. Democrats used this strategy to great effect in 2018, putting forward 20 former military candidates to help retake the house. Undecided voters, especially conservative leaning ones, are more likely to vote for candidates with a military background. While this will ultimately assist Slocum in a general election, it might not have the same effect in a primary.
Slocum’s website focuses on his lack of political experience, using the “career politician” moniker to paint House Democrats as out of touch. This same moniker can be applied to his primary opponent. Hernandez is a former Tea Party organizer and is currently serving his second term in the Michigan House of Representatives. He was labeled the “Most Conservative Member of the House” in a report by MIRS based on his voting record. His time spent in Lansing makes him a more recognizable face, especially among more politically active Republicans. This gives Hernandez the advantage of a record, and a very conservative one at that, to sway voters away from Slocum. More passionate and politically active voters vote in primaries, meaning that the good will Hernandez has built over his last two terms will make him a formidable candidate, especially if he can clinch a rock star endorsement.
Great Lakes News discovered that Rep. Paul Mitchell does not intend to endorse his replacement. Hernandez and Slocum may have resented the endorsement if he had granted it, as his decision to retire from congress because of his discomfort with the president’s rhetoric would have made his endorsement potentially dangerous. The Strategic National poll does shed light on a potentially important endorsement however. Former Representative Candice Miller held the seat as a Republican from 2003 to 2017, and 53 percent of respondents to Strategic National’s poll said they would be more open to voting for a candidate that she endorsed. She has yet to make an official endorsement, but seems to be watching the election with some interest.
While Hernandez and Slocum are not the only candidates running in the Republican primary of Michigan’s 10th, their match up should make for an interesting clash between a career Trump-supporting politician and a Military Trump-supporting outsider. Both candidate archetypes have proved popular with the president’s base, Senate candidate John James serves as a great example of the former, but Michigan’s 10th Congressional District will ultimately have the final say on what direction they want to take the local party.