LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Democrats seized power in state government again after a long drought and flipped two prized congressional seats thanks to a slate of female candidates who drew strong support from women voters.
Gretchen Whitmer’s comfortable win over Republican Bill Schuette in Tuesday’s gubernatorial race began a great night for a female-centric Democratic ticket that also included U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who defeated challenger John James.
Jocelyn Benson became the first Democrat to win the secretary of state’s office in 28 years. Dana Nessel was on track to becoming the first Democrat elected as Michigan attorney general in 20 years after her opponent conceded. U.S. House candidate Haley Stevens won an open GOP-held seat while another nominee, Elissa Slotkin, beat a Republican incumbent. And female candidates helped Democrats cut into, but not break, GOP majorities in the Legislature as voters backed ballot initiatives to legalize marijuana for recreational use, take aim at partisan gerrymandering and expand voting options.
“We see what happens when people show up at the polls and make their voices heard,” Whitmer said Wednesday during her first news conference as governor-elect. “I feel really good that the voters of this state voted to reject bigotry and hate. They voted to reject the divisive politics that seem to be permeating everything.”
About six in 10 women voters supported Whitmer, who will be Michigan’s second female governor when she succeeds term-limited Rick Snyder in January. Nearly four in 10 women favored Schuette, while male voters were about evenly divided. Meanwhile, nearly six in 10 women favored Stabenow, while James appeared to have a slight lead among men.
Nearly six in 10 voters said their feelings about President Donald Trump influenced their ballot choices. Nearly four in 10 said a reason for their vote was to show opposition to the president, while about two in 10 said they wanted to send a message of support.
The findings were among preliminary results from AP VoteCast, an innovative nationwide survey of about 138,000 voters and nonvoters — including 3,943 voters and 649 nonvoters in the state of Michigan — conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago.
Whitmer’s victory further cemented a trend in Michigan gubernatorial races. The last time the state consecutively elected governors from the same party was the 1960s, and the party opposite the president has now won 10 of the last 11 elections.
Whitmer, of East Lansing, was a state lawmaker for 14 years — always in the minority — and later served as Ingham County’s interim prosecutor. As the top Democrat in the Senate, she spoke forcefully against GOP-backed laws that slashed business taxes while raising them on individuals, made union fees optional, and required residents or businesses wanting health insurance coverage for elective abortions to buy extra coverage. She disclosed during a debate on the abortion bill that she had been raped in college.
“I like the idea of having a woman governor. I think it’s important for girls to see women in leadership positions,” said Kristin Schrader, a 51-year-old marketing and communications officer for a Girl Scouts organization who voted for Whitmer and lives in Superior Township near Ann Arbor. “If there were a better male candidate, of course I’d vote for him. So it’s not the overriding factor, but it helps.”
Others who voted for Whitmer cited her pledge to press for a multibillion-dollar plan to improve Michigan’s deteriorating roads.
“It’s a great night for women in Michigan,” said Slotkin, who worked in intelligence and defense in the Obama and Bush administrations. “Not just because they are women, but because they are extremely competent women.”
Democrat Rashida Tlaib won a House district to become one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress. Tlaib said she and others who ran for office, like Omar, did not jump in to “be first or make history.”
“So many of us, we’re all moms,” she said. “We’re kind of people that just feel like it’s really important that we are focused on the gun crisis, focused on health care, focused on all those things that seem to be a divide within the United States Congress right now.”
Another woman, Democratic nominee Megan Cavanagh, helped narrow Republicans’ advantage on the Michigan Supreme Court to 4-3 after knocking off Justice Kurtis Wilder, a Snyder appointee, though candidates were not identified by party on the ballot. Another Snyder appointee, Justice Elizabeth Clement, will stay on the bench after winning the most votes.
Associated Press writers John Flesher in Traverse City and Corey Williams and Mike Householder in Detroit contributed to this report.