Upstart Candidates Disrupt the Best-Laid Plans of Senate Democrats

Two upstart candidates announced Senate bids on Monday, disrupting Senate Democrats’ hopes for uncontested primaries in key states.


Two upstart candidates announced Senate bids on Monday, disrupting Senate Democrats’ hopes for uncontested primaries in key states.

  • In Texas, state Sen. Roland Gutierrez announced he would run against Sen. Ted Cruz in the 2024 Senate race.
  • His entrance sets up a competitive primary with Rep. Collin Allred of Dallas, the preferred candidate of Washington Democrats. Allred raised $6.2 million in his first two months as a candidate and will now have to divert some of those funds to win the Democratic primary.
  • Gutierrez is the state senator for Uvalde, a border community shaken by the horrific May 2022 Robb Elementary School massacre of 19 fourth graders and two teachers.
  • Gutierrez plans to make gun control the center of his campaign, akin to former Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s platform in his 2018 near-miss against Cruz and later his failed 2022 bid for governor.
  • Democrats need everything to go right to have a chance at defeating Cruz in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1988. A competitive Democratic primary will complicate their efforts.
  • In Michigan, actor Hill Harper, known for roles on ‘CSI: NY’ and ‘The Good Doctor’, announced he’d seek the Senate seat left open by the retirement of Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow.
  • Rep. Elissa Slotkin is the early frontrunner for the Democratic nomination and has quickly racked up key endorsements from labor unions, Democratic campaign groups like EMILYs List and VoteVets and a swath of local elected officials including Rep. Haley Stevens.
  • Slotkin, who is white, is being opposed by several Democratic candidates from minority backgrounds. Harper, state Board of Education President Pamela Pugh, and ex-state Rep. Leslie Love are competing to be Michigan’s first black senator. Businessman Nasser Beydoun, the former chairman of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce, is also running.
  • “There’s a high degree of frustration by a lot of Democrats ― not just African-American Democrats in Michigan ― that for the first time in 57 years Michigan does not have a Black Democratic representative in Congress. And that is going backwards,” Harper told the Detroit News.
  • Republicans do not yet have a credible candidate running in the Wolverine State, which former President Donald Trump narrowly carried in 2016 before losing the state by three points in 2020. New York Stock Exchange vice president John Tuttle is reportedly considering a run.


reporting from the left side of the aisle


  • The New York Times noted Harper plans to focus his campaign on expanding Social Security and health care access and vowed to be “the most progressive candidate” in the race.
  • The Washington Post observed that Harper would become the fourth black senator currently serving, in addition to Sens. Cory Booker, Raphael Warnock and Tim Scott. While Harper has not previously run for office, he served as a celebrity surrogate for Barack Obama, his Harvard Law School classmate.
  • According to NBC News, Gutierrez was little known outside of his border region senate district before the Robb Elementary School massacre. Since the killings, he’s surged to prominence and become a frequent voice on cable news as a vocal advocate for stricter gun control laws.



  • Breitbart noted Harper plans to highlight his status as a small-business owner (he owns a coffee shop in Detroit), a union member and a self-described “activist” in his campaign to emphasize that he is not a “career politician.”
  • Republicans had a better Monday in terms of Senate recruitment. In Nevada, decorated Afghanistan war veteran Sam Brown is mounting his second bid for Senate against Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen. “This bid for the Senate is really rooted in the fact that Nevadans are worried about losing the American dream and what our kids are going to inherit,” Brown told Fox News.
  • Brown is considered the top recruit of national Republicans in Nevada, according to National Review. Brown was severely burned by an improvised explosive device (IED) explosion in 2008, as Sen. Steve Daines, the GOP Senate campaign chief, noted in a statement after Brown’s entry. “Sam Brown’s life of service and sacrifice is an inspiration to all Americans,” Daines said.


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© Dominic Moore, 2023