WASHINGTON — Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., announced Thursday that she won't seek re-election in 2024, setting the stage for a competitive Senate race in a key battleground state in a presidential election year.
Stabenow, 72, said in a statement that she has been “inspired by a new generation of leaders” to “pass the torch in the U.S. Senate.” She said she will fulfill her six-year term through Jan. 3, 2025.
She noted that she blazed trails by "being the ‘first’ woman to reach historic milestones as an elected official, including the honor of being the first woman from Michigan elected to the U.S. Senate," adding, "But I have always believed it’s not enough to be the ‘first’ unless there is a 'second' and a 'third.'"
For the next two years, she said, she will be intensely focused on continuing her work representing Michiganders, including shepherding the next five-year farm bill.
As for life after Congress, Stabenow said, "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."
Stabenow’s retirement opens the seat up for a deep Democratic bench in Michigan. Democrats, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, were re-elected to several statewide offices in November. Others whose names will be in the mix: Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, Attorney General Dana Nessel and state Sen. Mallory McMorrow, who gained a national following last year after she went viral with her pushback against anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. Democratic U.S. Reps. Elissa Slotkin and Haley Stevens also could be eyeing promotions.
A spokesperson for Whitmer said she won't seek the seat.
"As governor of this great state for the next four years, I look forward to working with [Stabenow] through the end of her term and beyond in however she serves our state next," Whitmer said later in a statement implying she plans to serve the full second term she won last fall.
Other Democrats were holding the door open a bit more.
A Democratic strategist familiar with Gilchrist's thinking said she isn't ruling out a bid. McMorrow issued a statement praising Stabenow as a "trailblazer" but didn't address whether she was interested in the job. Slotkin, meanwhile, is "seriously considering" a Senate run, a source familiar with her thinking said.
A source familiar with Stevens’ thinking said Stevens is talking to supporters and consultants about a Senate bid and is likely to commission a poll.
"She's considering it," said the source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity without authorization to discuss the internal deliberations. Stevens, who won competitive primary and general elections last year, has proved in three election cycles to be a prolific fundraiser.
Rep. Debbie Dingell is also not ruling out a run for the seat, said a source familiar with her thinking. The source said Dingell and other Michigan Democrats were surprised by Stabenow’s announcement.
Early speculation is also likely to focus intensely on U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who moved to Michigan after his unsuccessful 2020 presidential campaign. Buttigieg’s advisers have long downplayed the significance of his newly established residency, noting that his in-laws live in the state and saying he and his husband wanted to be close to family as they raised their children.
Buttigieg issued a statement Thursday calling Stabenow "a force in the Senate" who "fights every day to make life better for Michiganders and all Americans."
"I am fully focused on serving the president in my role as Secretary of Transportation, and not seeking any other job," Buttigieg added. "We are hard at work to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, grow the economy, and create good-paying jobs."
On the Republican side, Rep.-elect John James, who lost to Stabenow in 2018 and won a House seat in November, is being mentioned as a prospect, as are other Republicans in the state's Legislature and congressional delegation. Tudor Dixon, who lost to Whitmer in last year's race for governor, could be another possibility, along with other far-right Republicans who failed in their attempts to win statewide office in 2022.
"Debbie Stabenow’s retirement gives Republicans the opportunity to coalesce behind a strong candidate, put in the work on the ground now, and prove why Joe Biden’s runaway spending and record of failure are hurting hardworking Michiganders," Dixon posted Thursday in a series of tweets.
Dixon's tweets didn't indicate whether she is exploring a run; a person with knowledge of her thinking said she hasn't ruled anything out. Businessman Kevin Rinke, who lost to Dixon in last year's GOP primary for governor, is "looking seriously" at the race and has gotten calls encouraging him to run, said a source familiar with his political interests.
Stabenow has served in the Senate since 2001 and previously served in the House from 1997. Before she came to Congress, she also served in both the state House and Senate.
She holds several Democratic leadership roles, including Senate Democratic Policy Committee chair and chair of the Agriculture Committee.
She has served alongside Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., since he came to Congress in 2015.
Stabenow is among 21 Senate Democrats whose terms expire in 2025. Democrats face an uphill climb to hold on to the majority in the next election.