Incumbents prevail, women win big and more takeaways from Michigan’s state House primaries

August 6, 2020

Michigan Live: Incumbents prevail, women win big and more takeaways from Michigan’s state House primaries
By Lauren Gibbons

Michigan voters made their choices on the state House candidates they’d like to see on their November ballots this week.

All 110 state House seats are up for grabs this general election cycle in addition to Michigan’s 14 U.S. House seats, one U.S. Senate seat and the presidency.

When it comes to the House, the big question is whether the total partisan makeup of candidates changes enough to flip majority control. Republicans seek to maintain their hold on the House majority while Democrats are hoping a handful of possible seat pickups will be enough to move the needle their way.

Here’s a recap of what went down across the state on Tuesday, and what trends to watch as campaigns now shift to the general election cycle.

Incumbents survive primary challenges

Many sitting representatives – who can serve up to three two-year terms in the state House before term limits kick in – ran unopposed in their respective primary races, or handily defeated their primary opponents.

Incumbents who did face competitive primary challenges were ultimately successful.

Rep. Joe Tate, D-Detroit, defeated Taylor Harrell with 69% of the vote to Harrell’s 31%, and Rep. Tyrone Carter, D-Detroit, won with 62.5% percent of the vote in a three-way primary race. Rep. Cynthia Johnson, D-Detroit, defeated challenger Rita Ross, sister to Motown musician Diana Ross, 65% to 28%.

And Rep. Karen Whitsett – a Detroit Democrat who has been criticized by some in her party for her praise of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus response – emerged victorious in a four-way primary, coming away with 44.68% of the vote.

Former gubernatorial candidate Shri Thanedar prevails in Detroit district

Businessman Shri Thanedar – who ran an unsuccessful bid for governor in the 2018 Democratic primary – prevailed in an eight-way primary race for the 3rd House District, which covers a portion of Detroit.

Thanedar moved to the district last year from Ann Arbor and spent more than $400,000 on his campaign for the seat, far less than the millions he spent on his gubernatorial run but far more than any other candidates in the primary race.

With 100% of precincts reporting, Thanedar earned 35% of the vote, with opponents Donavan McKinney and China Cochran earning 20% and 17%, respectively.

Because the district trends heavily Democratic, a Democratic primary win virtually guarantees a win in the November general. Thanedar will face Republican Anita Vinson in the general election.

In many open primaries, women win big

In 2018, women candidates were successful up and down the ticket, winning the state’s top three statewide positions and a slew of U.S. and state House and Senate seats.

That trend appeared to hold in many open primary races this cycle, especially in competitive Democratic primaries.

Helena Scott emerged the victor in a seven-way primary in the 7th House District, and Stephanie Young, Mary Cavanagh, Regina Weiss and Samantha Steckloff defeated several male competitors in the 8th, 10th, 27th and 37th House districts, respectively.

Other examples around the state included Democratic women who will now challenge Republican incumbents, including Janet Metsa in the 110th and Lily Cheng-Schulting in the 72nd.

Some races come down to the wire

A few state House primary races were quite close after votes were counted.

In the 38th House District Democratic primary, considered a key open seat by both Democrats and Republicans, Kelly Breen scraped through with a victory over Megan McCallister, beating her by 144 votes. She will face off against Republican Chase Turner in the general election.

In the Republican primary race to take on 18th District incumbent Rep. Kevin Hertel, D-St. Clair Shores, four votes separated Michael Babat and Christine Timmons with 100% of precincts reporting.

Fourteen votes separated Keith Kitchens and Ernie Whiteside in the 56th District Democratic primary. The winner faces TC Clements, who won the Republican primary in the district with 71.89% of the vote.

In the 63rd Democratic primary, Luke Howell earned 50.56% of the vote to Ron Hawkins’ 49.44%. The winner faces incumbent Republican Matt Hall, R-Marshall.

November elections will decide majority

For both Democrats and Republicans, 2020′s state House elections are a big deal.

The 110-member chamber has had a Republican majority for the last several cycles, and Republicans in the House and Senate often present a united front against Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on policy matters.

Republicans are fighting to hang onto that power. Democrats, meanwhile, see an opportunity to wrest back the majority by hanging onto gains made in 2018 and flipping a handful of competitive seats.

That effort has attracted attention from national progressive fundraisers like EMILYs List, and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee is also interested in several Michigan races.

Absentee ballots make a big splash

Even before COVID-19, observers were already predicting a big uptick in absentee ballots with the passage of Proposal 3 in 2018, which allowed any resident in Michigan to drop off or mail in an absentee ballot without voting by mail.

That proved true in the August primaries, and it slowed down unofficial result returns considerably in many regions of Michigan. Some jurisdictions were still counting ballots well into Wednesday morning.

The large uptick in absentee voting shattered turnout records for an August primary in Michigan.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson anticipates use of absentee ballots will only increase in the general election, as turnouts are typically higher in general elections and presidential election years.

Tuesday’s vote total was 2,515,882. That’s 13% higher than the previous record of 2.2 million set in the 2018 August primary — and 79% higher than the 1.4 million ballots cast in August 2016.

This week’s number also exceeded the 2.3 million ballots cast in the March presidential primary.

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