LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan’s primary Tuesday featured a serious challenge to an incumbent congresswoman and campaigns for two U.S. House seats where a Republican and a former GOP member are retiring.
The election — marked by a surge of mail-in absentee ballots during the coronavirus pandemic — also shaped races in November for a couple of potentially competitive congressional districts Democrats flipped in the 2018 midterm.
Polls closed at 8 p.m. Eastern time in almost all of the state except the western Upper Peninsula, where voting went until 9 p.m. in counties on Central time.
Top races to watch:
‘SQUAD’ MEMBER FACES TEST
Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib, part of a “squad” of first-term liberal women of color, narrowly topped a crowded 2018 primary field to win the 13th District, which includes parts of heavily Democratic Detroit. Now she faces a rematch with her closest challenger then, City Council president Brenda Jones, who finished the term of John Conyers.
Tlaib had a huge financial advantage over Jones. But race and religion were also factors. More than half of the district’s residents are Black, like Jones. Tlaib, of Palestinian descent, is one of the first two female Muslim members of Congress.
The decisions by Reps. Justin Amash and Paul Mitchell to not seek re-election led eight Republicans to run in the 3rd and 10th districts.
Amash, who has criticized President Donald Trump and supported his impeachment, left the GOP last year. The Republican-leaning seat he has held since 2011 stretches between the Grand Rapids and Battle Creek areas.
Top contenders included Iraq War veteran Peter Meijer, whose grandfather helped build the Meijer chain of stores, and state Rep. Lynn Afendoulis, who formerly worked in corporate communications and journalism. They loaned their campaigns hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Whoever emerges from the five-way primary will face Democrat Hillary Scholten, a lawyer. Democrats are trying to flip the district this fall along with 17-term Republican Rep. Fred Upton’s 6th District in southwestern Michigan, where state Rep. Jon Hoadley was expected to win the Democratic primary.
In the 10th District, three GOP candidates hoped to succeed Mitchell, who is leaving after two terms in the safe Republican seat that covers the Thumb region and much of Macomb County.
Business executive Lisa McClain spent more than $1.4 million of her own money — more than $900,000 above the amounts raised by state Rep. Shane Hernandez and retired Brig. Gen. Doug Slocum, who led the Selfridge Air National Guard Base. All support President Trump.
McClain ran ads touting her business credentials and status as a political outsider. Hernandez , who chairs the House budget committee and was endorsed by Mitchell, cited his conservative voting record. Slocum emphasized his military leadership.
8TH, 11TH DISTRICTS
In 2018, Democrats Elissa Slotkin and Haley Stevens flipped GOP-held seats and seem positioned to hold them amid Republicans’ candidate recruiting difficulties and Trump’s struggles in the suburbs around Detroit.
In Slotkin’s 8th District, which stretches from Lansing to Oakland County, the GOP contenders included newcomer Paul Junge, who was an immigration official in the Trump administration and gave his campaign $528,000. That is four times what the other three first-time candidates raised combined.
The 11th District in parts of Oakland and Wayne counties had a five-way GOP primary to see who goes against Stevens. The best-known candidate was former Rep. Kerry Bentivolio. He won the seat in 2012 when the incumbent submitted invalid nominating petitions, only to lose it two years later.
Eric Esshaki, a business attorney and former nurse, was among others running. None has held elective office.
Before the battle for control of the state House intensifies this fall — the GOP has a 58-51 edge — Republicans and Democrats had to settle primary fights. The parties’ chances in swing districts can hinge on whether strong candidates advance. Also, for many open seats, the next lawmaker was essentially chosen Tuesday because of how districts are drawn.
Absentee voting is surging during the virus outbreak. As of 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, nearly 1.6 million absentee ballots had been cast — breaking the record of nearly 1.3 million set in the November 2016 presidential election and also surpassing the nearly 900,000 cast in the 2020 presidential primary. Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said election results may be delayed. Clerks’ ability to handle the influx was being closely watched, particularly amid legislative debate over whether to allow processing of absentee ballots to begin earlier for the November election.