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Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a force in politics, to retire. Who may run in 2024?

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, right, is a political trailblazer who has forged powerful alliances on both sides of the aisle. She won't run for re-election next year, setting up what could be a battle royale to replace her. (Courtesy photo)

LANSING — U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, a political trailblazer and longtime force in Michigan, announced Tuesday that she will not seek re-election and will instead leave Congress when her term ends in two years. 

In a statement, the Lansing Democrat said she was "inspired by a new generation of leaders" to "pass the torch" in the U.S. Senate, where her pending departure is expected to spark an intense battle as Republicans attempt to flip her seat in 2024. 

“Under the cloud of unprecedented threats to our democracy and our basic freedoms, a record-breaking number of people voted last year in Michigan," Stabenow said, referencing a strong year for Democrats, who won top statewide offices and the state Legislature.

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"Young people showed up like never before. This was a very hopeful sign for our future."

Stabenow, 72, became the first Michigan woman to serve in the U.S. Senate by defeating Republican incumbent Spencer Abraham in 2000. Her political career began 26 years earlier, when she was the first woman elected to the Ingham County Board of Commissioners. 

When Stabenow won a seat in the Michigan House in 1978, there were only eight women serving in the Legislature, she recalled in her statement, noting that she remains committed to finishing her current term with "important work to improve the lives of Michiganders."

“I am so grateful for the trust the people of Michigan have placed in me," Stabenow said, also praising her Senate staff.

“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 announcement sparked immediate speculation about who might run to replace her.

On the Democratic side, possible candidates could include U.S. Reps. Elissa Slotkin or Haley Stevens, state Sen. Mallory McMorrow or even newly minted Michigander Pete Buttigieg, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, said strategist Adrian Hemond. 

"Elissa Slotkin is quite likely to run, and I think she's probably Democrats' best nominee for this," said Hemond, CEO of the Grassroots Midwest political consulting firm in Lansing. 

Republicans, who failed to defeat Stabenow in recent election cycles, will "aggressively target" the seat in 2024, National Republican Senate Campaign spokesperson Mike Berg told Fox News

GOP candidates did not fare well in last year's statewide election, but Hemond said Stabenow's departure at least improves their odds because she has been "one of the most effective retail politicians in modern Michigan history.”

Stabenow's work as chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee helped her forge relationships with Republican allies, making her particularly difficult to defeat in statewide elections, said former Michigan Gov. Jim Blanchard. 

"She's been a big-time leader in agriculture and manufacturing," Blanchard told Bridge. "She's almost really at the peak of her career. I'm surprised. It's a big loss."

There will be "dozens of people who line up to run" for her seat, Blanchard said, declining to speculate on potential Stabenow successors. 

“We should be thankful that we've had her service, both in the state in the Legislature and also in Congress in the Senate," he said, calling Stabenow a "pioneer for a lot of women."

"It's quite a great success story," Blanchard added.

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