HOWELL — They're all conservative. They all support President Donald Trump and his policies. They all oppose "red flag" policies or any firearm restrictions. They're all anti-abortion. They'll all against Medicare for All and Bernie Sanders'-style "socialism." They're all tough on illegal immigration.
Really, the only thing that separated the five Republicans seeking to face U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly) during tonight's Livingston County candidate forum was that Paul Junge has financial resources. And, as his opponents pointed out, lacks the roots in the district they have.
Roughly 500 Republicans filled a Crystal Gardens Banquet Center ballroom to hear Junge flag the $273,000 he raised last year compared to the $12,000 the other four raised combined as the reason why he's in the best position to face the freshman Democratic congresswoman in November.
The former TV personality also is the only Republican in the competitive 8th Congressional District to be a part of the National Republican Campaign Committee's Young Guns program for hitting certain goals.
"I can tell you that I'm the only candidate up on this dais with the financial resources to answer the attacks to help us win this seat back," Junge said. "Ladies and gentlemen, we'd all be Republican votes, but we'll need financial resources to beat Elissa Slotkin."
The proclamation during yesterday's nearly two-hour forum put a target on his back. Real estate agent Mike Detmer called out Junge for being a sporadic resident of the 8th Congressional District. He also said whoever wins the primary will have money coming in from local, state and national Republican interests.
"But to say, 'I'm the best candidate for the job because I raised $275,000 when $150,000 of that is his own money and the rest was frontloaded from family, friends and business associates in California?" Detmer said. "You don't own a home. You don't have a business. You don't work here. You don't live here. You don't live here. It's absurd."
The line got the loudest applause of the night from the decidedly pro-Detmer crowd.
Attorney Kristina Lyke got in the final jab of the night when she said, "I didn't move here to run for this race. I am your neighbor. I built my business here and I'm dedicated to this district."
Junge was a FOX47 anchor from 2002-04 and worked on Terry Lynn Land's 2014 U.S. Senate campaign. He's also worked in Washington D.C. and California at various points in the last 20 years.
Otherwise, the first live forum with the five Republican 8th Congressional District candidates was an exercise in each one flexing their conservative bona fides to the conservative audience.
On abortion, Lyke went as far as to say women who seek illegal abortions should be prosecuted along with the doctors. She later questioned how anyone could be a Christian and not anti-abortion.
Detmer said that no federal funds should go to any city that declares itself a "sanctuary city" and won't assist federal authorities in rounding up illegal immigrants. Later, he said, "It's time we start rolling back the infringements" on the Second Amendment that the federal government has put on gun ownership.
State Board of Education member Nikki Snyder said even Sanders, the Democratic Party's presidential frontrunner, wouldn't have survived his recent heart attack had it occurred under the Medicare for All "system he's peddling."
Military veteran Alan Hoover got so wound up criticizing red flag laws that allow authorities to take away the weapons of those who a judge believes is a harm to themselves and others that he had trouble spitting out the words "red flag."
"I can't even say it because it because it disgusts me so much," he said.
Junge tried more than the others to direct his line of attacks against Slotkin. He was particularly critical of her sponsorship of a bill that would have restrained the president powers to use the military against Iran and her opposition to Trump taking out Iranian General Qasem Soleimani.
"She said the juice wasn't worth the squeeze," Junge said. "That's not national security expertise. Elissa Slotkin must go."
One of the questions posed to the candidates was which Democratic presidential nominee scares them the most and why. All of them but Hoover responded "Sanders." As Lyke said, "Sanders scares me because we will feel the burn with health care and the taxes."
Hoover said the closest person he could support was Tulsi Gabbard, but she's been effectively chased out of the race.
Otherwise, Snyder stood apart for her shorter responses and sharper comments, like her closing statement, "I'm one tough and pissed off mom. I will fight tooth and painted nail for our freedoms, folks."