McClain recently told Fox News her top priority as an elected official will be focusing on jobs and the economy.
“We have businesses going out of business and it’s so heart-wrenching,” McClain said of employers in her district struggling to stay afloat amid the coronavirus pandemic. “That’s the number one thing that I think we really need to focus on.”
She positioned herself as an ally to small business owners struggling under strict coronavirus lockdowns implemented by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, D-Mich. McClain said there’s no doubt the coronavirus is real and has claimed too many lives, but the country has come a long way in 2020 in understanding how to prevent spreading the virus.
Whitmer’s restrictions went too far and didn’t recognize that businesses have found ways to operate safely, she said. “I don’t think she had a belief in the people,” McClain said.
The effervescent McClain, who enjoys singing and joking around, said maintaining an upbeat attitude has been key to her success in her financial services business and in her first attempt at running for elected office.
“We had fun,” McClain, R-Mich., said of her win in the 10th Congressional District, which extends from Michigan’s thumb region down to Macomb County.
Sure, there were times when it “stunk” and the heated three-way GOP primary got “ugly” at points, but McClain said she surrounded herself with good people and her family grew closer during door-knocking and attending campaign functions together.
Rep.-elect Lisa McClain, R-Mich. (Photo courtesy of Lisa McClain for Congress)
Her takeaway so far from politics is that while negative campaign tactics are effective, offering positivity and logic can be refreshing to voters sick of the doom and gloom.
“I think politics taught me that everybody is fear-mongering and it does work,” McClain, 54, acknowledged. “But there are very few people that can provide some vision and hope and truly believe that.”
McClain will be the only GOP female congresswoman in Michigan’s 14-member delegation. She succeeds retiring Rep. Paul Mitchell, R-Mich., who was a successful businessman and happy warrior when he entered Congress in 2017 but is leaving so fed up with dysfunctional politics and President Trump’s ongoing claims of election fraud that he disaffiliated with the Republican Party.
McClain said it’s important to have realistic expectations and patience.
“So many people these days are looking for perfection,” McClain said. “I’m not looking for perfection, because … it’s just not reality. But I do think progress is what we need to strive for.”
“And I don’t think I’m your normal politician,” McClain continued. “And I think that’s good. I’m a mom. I’m a business owner. I go to the grocery store. I make dinner. I do my laundry and I think I bring a fresh perspective. And hope I stay that way.”
McClain, a wife and mother of four kids, spent more than three decades in the financial services industry. For the first 11 years, she worked for American Express/Ameriprise. Then in 1998, McClain and some of her business partners broke away and started their own Michigan-based financial services company that eventually grew to 700 employees and nearly $8 billion in assets, McClain said.
She wasn’t active in the Republican Party but had plenty of political opinions that would usually spill out during her regular Sunday dinners with her four kids. At one of those family feasts, which McClain affectionately dubs “Mama time,” her daughter essentially dared her to run for Congress to change what she doesn’t like.
Rep.-elect Lisa McClain (R.-Mich.) poses for a portrait outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 3, 2020. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
McClain talked it over with her husband that night and asked: “Why not me?”
With their kids grown up, McClain said the timing was right to follow in the footsteps of her local political idol, former Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., who represented the district until January 2017 as a “tough” and “fair” advocate for the people.
“So I threw my hat in the ring,” McClain said. “And I ran and won.”
It wasn’t all easy. She had a tough and expensive primary. The Club for Growth PAC endorsed one of her primary opponents, GOP state representative Shane Hernandez, and pumped at least $1.5 million in outside spending into the race, the Detroit News reported.
Hernandez also had the backing of Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and incumbent Rep. Paul Mitchell, who said McClain wasn’t up for the responsibilities of Congress. “This is a serious job for people who are serious people,” Mitchell told the Detroit News during the primary.
To counter negative ads, McClain loaned her campaign $1.75 million throughout 2020 to introduce herself to the district. She campaigned as a “conservative outsider” who will support President Trump to reopen the economy and bring back manufacturing. She touted her business experience and said she’d fight for Michigan jobs, better trade deals and holding China accountable.
McClain prevailed in the three-person primary and the political newcomer won by 5 percentage points. In the less competitive general election, McClain beat Democrat Kimberly Bizon by a wide margin: 66% to 34%.
Rep.-elect Lisa McClain, R-Mich., arrives for new member orientation in the Capitol Visitor Center on Friday, Nov. 13, 2020. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
McClain approaches campaigning and businesses with a work hard, play hard attitude. She can be tough when necessary but likes to bring positive energy and fun to the campaign trail, said Scott Greenlee, a political consultant who worked on McClain’s campaign.
One example Greenlee cited is McClain’s love for singing that’s prompted her to grab the mic at festivals and events and sing along with the band. When Michigan native Kid Rock played at a big Trump event in Macomb County this year, McClain introduced the rock star and quipped that if politics didn’t work out, she wanted to tour with him.
“It was a very different campaign than any that I worked on in 30 years of politics,” Greenlee said of McClain’s fun approach.
Now that she’s entering the stuffy, buttoned-up halls of Congress, McClain said she wants to continue to find the joy in working hard. In two years, when she’s up for reelection, McClain said she’ll gauge her success by asking: Am I having fun?
“This is going to sound funny, but I think it’s true. Am I still having fun?” McClain explained. “Not that every day is going to be perfect. But … am I still having fun? Do I still enjoy what I’m doing? I’ve been in business for 33 years. I love what I do. And I think I’m going to love … serving the people.”