Detroit Regional Chamber > Mackinac Policy Conference Media Coverage > Michigan Senate Debate at Mackinac Canceled as Front-Runners Decline to Take Part

Michigan Senate Debate at Mackinac Canceled as Front-Runners Decline to Take Part

May 22, 2024

Detroit Free Press
May 22, 2024
Todd Spangler

A debate among candidates for Michigan’s open U.S. Senate seat scheduled to take place next week has been canceled with the presumed front-runners declining to take part.

The Detroit Regional Chamber, which was set to host the debate on May 30 as part of the Mackinac Policy Conference at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, said Wednesday it was canceling the debate with former U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, of Brighton, who is running for the Republican nomination, and U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, of Holly, who is running for the Democratic nomination, not taking part.

Slotkin had earlier agreed to be part of the event but canceled, her campaign said, because Rogers and another Republican candidate, former U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, declined to participate. Slotkin’s campaign had agreed to the debate as long as there were equal numbers of leading candidates — three from each party — taking part.

“Mike Rogers and Justin Amash pulled out of the debate at the last minute and their unprecedented refusal at this late stage made it impossible to proceed with the agreed-upon format,” Slotkin’s campaign said. “We have been clear that if an equally partisan debate had been arranged, we would have been happy to participate.”

The chamber was prepared to go ahead with just four candidates, three Democrats — Slotkin, Detroit actor Hill Harper and Dearborn businessman Nasser Beydoun — and one Republican, Grosse Pointe businessman Sandy Pensler, with the chamber’s website saying Amash’s and Rogers’ refusal to take part was “unprecedented.” But that format crossed the agreement it had with Slotkin’s campaign for equal representation on both sides.

In a statement, the chamber said the candidates’ “refusal to engage in this vital forum points to a deeply concerning trend” of favoring “sound bites, clicks and ‘likes’ ” on social media over open debate.

The chamber confirmed the Slotkin campaign’s version of how talks proceeded but also told the Free Press that Rogers’ campaign pulled the plug on appearing late last week after saying it did not want to be part of a debate with Pensler — who has been sharply critical of Rogers’ record in TV ads — and preferred a one-on-one debate with Slotkin, despite neither being their party’s nominees yet.

Rogers’ campaign spokesman, Chris Gustafson, on Wednesday echoed the desire to debate Slotkin. “When Elissa Slotkin wants to debate and defend her horrible record … Mike Rogers has a simple message: anytime, anywhere,” he said.

It’s not unusual for front-runners, especially if they are believed to have a sizable advantage, to avoid debates — much as former President Donald Trump, who is running for reelection, did during the Republican primary debates this year.

Pensler, meanwhile, whose campaign said he is still going to the Mackinac conference, put out a statement saying Rogers is “scared” to debate him, adding that Rogers “wants to be anointed by Washington D.C. special interests and cannot defend his record.”

Another coalition, the Michigan Debate Task Force, whose members include Oakland University and the Detroit Economic Club, have already sent letters to all the Senate candidates urging them to commit to three debates after the primary and before the Nov. 5 general election.