LANSING, Mich. — Republican U.S. Senate candidate Lena Epstein said Thursday she is leaning toward instead running for a suburban Detroit House seat opening due to a retirement, a move that is to be finalized in the next few days.
Epstein, of Bloomfield Hills, co-owns an automotive oil company and co-chaired President Donald Trump’s successful Michigan campaign. She and former state Supreme Court Justice Bob Young are the two declared GOP candidates to face third-term Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow in 2018, though businessmen John James and Sandy Pensler have signaled they will enter the Senate primary. U.S. Rep. Fred Upton is considering a bid, and musician Kid Rock has teased his interest.
Epstein, who has not held elective office, said she is hearing from people who think she would be the strongest candidate to go against a “well-funded Democrat” to succeed second-term Republican Rep. Dave Trott of Birmingham. The GOP-leaning 11th Congressional District includes parts of Oakland and Wayne counties and may become a bigger Democratic target after Trott’s decision not to seek re-election this week.
“Our company has over 200 employees, and our heart is here in southeast Michigan so we need to seriously consider it,” Epstein said in a statement provided to The Associated Press. “I am leaning towards running for Congress and will have a formal announcement in the next few days.”
One complicating factor for Epstein is she lives just outside the 11th District — about a quarter mile away — in the 9th District represented by Democratic Rep. Sander Levin. While there is no requirement that members of Congress reside in their districts, her out-of-district residency is likely to be criticized.
She is expected to address the issue in her announcement and appears willing to move. Epstein, who had $456,000 in her Senate campaign in June and has raised more since, could transfer the money to a House campaign. She loaned $250,000 of her own money to her Senate campaign.
A number of current and former state Republican lawmakers are interested in joining the House race.
And two former members of the Obama administration have already said they are running for the seat — Treasury official Haley Stevens, who worked on the auto bailout and had $281,000 on hand at the last campaign-finance deadline, and Homeland Security adviser Fayrouz Saad, who helped coordinate the response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. She announced her candidacy after the last campaign-finance reporting period.
In the Senate race, Stabenow coasted to re-election in 2006 and 2012. Trump’s narrow victory over Hillary Clinton in the state — the first for a GOP presidential nominee in 28 years — has given Republicans some optimism about facing Stabenow, though they concede that beating her will be difficult.