Michigan 3: Scholten Back for a Rematch

by Jacob Rubashkin February 1, 2022 · 6:10 AM EST

Hillary Scholten, the Democratic nominee for Michigan’s 3rd District in 2020, is running for the Grand Rapids-area seat again, setting up a potential rematch with freshman GOP Rep. Peter Meijer.

But unlike in 2020, when Meijer defeated Scholten by 6 points, 53-47 percent, the 3rd District is now Democratic-friendly turf, following the adoption of Michigan’s new congressional map in December.

The new map, drawn by the state’s independent citizen redistricting commission, transforms the 3rd from a sprawling western Michigan seat into a compact district that includes all of Grand Rapids. And while the old 3rd voted for President Donald Trump by 3 points, 51-48 percent, in 2020, Joe Biden would have carried the new 3rd by 8 points, 53-45 percent.

That makes it Democrats’ best pickup opportunity in the state.

An immigration attorney who previously worked in the Department of Justice and who raised $3.8 million during her 2020 bid, Scholten is a top-tier candidate. In an interview with Inside Elections during the 2020 campaign, she spoke extensively about her Christian faith — more rare for Democratic candidates these days — and as we wrote then, she “has a profile that could go a long way toward winning over traditionally GOP voters.” 

Another potential Democratic candidate, state Sen. Winnie Banks, has said she won’t run.

Meijer is a formidable incumbent, with a resume tailor-made for politics and advantages most freshmen members of Congress do not possess. He is the scion of one of Michigan’s (and the country’s) wealthiest families with virtually unlimited personal resources. And his last name is intimately familiar to voters because of the ubiquitous Meijer supermarkets.

Perhaps most importantly, given the partisan lean of the district, Meijer’s first act in Congress was to break with Trump in the most high-profile way possible: by voting to impeach him after the Jan. 6 insurrection. That could help him burnish his bipartisan bona fides.

Then there’s the question of the larger political environment, which is shaping up to be unfavorable for Democrats given Biden’s low job approval rating and a GOP advantage on the generic ballot. In gubernatorial contests last November, Republican candidates outperformed Trump’s mark in New Jersey and Virginia by 12 points. For a Republican to win a district Trump lost by 8 points, then, is well within the realm of possibility.

However, Meijer’s vote to impeach Trump introduces more uncertainty into the race, because the former president is backing a primary challenger to the freshman representative: former acting assistant secretary of Housing and Urban Development John Gibbs. 

At the moment, Meijer seems well-positioned in the Aug. 2 primary. He only needs a plurality of the vote to win the nomination, and in addition to Gibbs, several other pro-Trump candidates are running, with the potential to take votes away from Gibbs. Meijer has a significant fundraising advantage as well.

Should Republicans nominate a candidate more closely tied to Trump, then the district could slip away from them. Even with Meijer as the nominee, the 3rd should play host to one of the more competitive elections in the state and country, especially now that Scholten has entered the fray.

Inside Elections currently rates Michigan’s 3rd District race as a Toss-up.