Dems Sweep Statewide Offices; Make Gains in Legislature

Now that all the results have been counted, here’s a rundown of what happened in races across the state of Michigan, as well as for Congress. All results are considered unofficial until the state Board of Canvassers certifies them at a yet-to-be-determined meeting.

Most notably, of course, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer, of East Lansing, and her running mate, Garlin Gilchrist II of Detroit, will be sworn in on January 1, 2019. Their tally, according to the New York Times, shows they beat Republicans Bill Schuette and Lisa Posthumus-Lyons by a wide margin of 53.3 percent to 43.8 percent, respectively.

Gilchrist will become the first Black person to serve as lieutenant governor in Michigan, and Whitmer is only the second woman in Michigan’s history to hold the state’s highest office. Their victory also hands Schuette his second-ever loss in a political career that spans some 30 years.

Attorney General

Openly lesbian Democrat Dana Nessel’s victory over Republican Tom Leonard in the race of attorney general was arguably one of the most-watched outcomes of Michigan’s statewide races because GOP donors went all in on Leonard after watching Schuette stay consistently behind – sometimes by as much as 14 percent – in pre-election polling.

Ultimately, Nessel – one of the key attorneys in the Supreme Court case that gave the green light to marriage equality in 2015 – appears to have won by a margin of 49 percent to Leonard’s 46.3. It took until nearly 9 a.m. the day after the election for Nessel to learn the outcome, at which time Leonard had acknowledged defeat and conceded the race to Nessel. She will be the first Democrat to take the office back after 16 years of Republican control.

Secretary of State

Democrat Jocelyn Benson also took back control of the secretary of state’s office, besting Republican Mary Treder Lang by a margin of 52.8 percent to 44 percent, respectively. Benson has once before sought the office but was defeated by current Secretary of State Ruth Johnson during the right-wing tea party wave of 2010. Benson’s victory means she will be the first Democrat to hold that office in 24 years.

State Supreme Court

Of the two state Supreme Court justices up for re-election, Republican-endorsed Justice Elizabeth Clement will keep her seat while Democrat-endorsed candidate Megan Cavanaugh – the daughter of former Justice Michael Cavanaugh – ousted current Justice Kurtis Wilder, who was also endorsed by the Michigan Republican Party.

State Board of Education/University Boards

Although few pay as much attention to these races, they are actually quite important when it comes to the future of Michigan’s educational system and its public, research-focused universities. Democrats made significant gains across the board here.

On the state Board of Education – whose first task will be finding the next state superintendent/leader of the Department of Education – Democrats moved into a 6-2 majority, up from the 4-4 split, including ousting the board’s co-president, Republican Richard Zeile. The Democratic shift is thanks to victors Judy Pritchett of Washington Township and Tiffany Tilley of Southfield.

Democrats also increased their majorities on the University of Michigan Board of Regents and Wayne State University Board of Governor from 5-3 to 7-1. Winners at U-M included Democrats Jordan Acker and Paul Brown, and at WSU were Democrats Bryan Barnhill and Anil Kumar.

But by all accounts, the Board of Trustees at Michigan State University was most-watched to see who would win in the post-Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal. To that end, Democrats Kelly Tebay and Brianna Scott replaced two Republicans who decided against running for re-election to the Board, giving Democrats a 6-2 majority there.

Congress Splits to 7-7, Dems Flip Two Seats

Republican incumbent U.S. Reps. Jack Bergman, Bill Huizenga, Justin Amash and John Moolenaar kept their seats in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th congressional districts, respectively, and Democrat U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee held his 5th congressional district seat in Flint. The race for the 6th congressional district, currently held by Republican U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, was one Dems had hoped was ripe for a pickup, but Upton came out on top at 50 percent to Democrat Matt Longjohn’s 46 percent.

Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg held his seat over Democrat Gretchen Driskell, but in one of the most contentious congressional races in the state, newcomer and Democrat Elissa Slotkin ousted current Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop, 51 to 47 percent, respectively to flip the 8th congressional district. Bishop called to concede around 1 a.m. Wednesday morning, reports indicate.

Democrat Andy Levin won his father, U.S. Rep. Sander Levin’s, seat in the 9th congressional, and Republican U.S. Rep. Paul Mitchell kept his 10th congressional seat. But newcomer and Democrat Haley Stevens flipped the 11th congressional district, besting her Republican competition, Lena Epstein, 52 to 45 percent, respectively.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell easily kept her 12th congressional seat, and Democrat Rashida Tlaib will take the 13th congressional seat previously held by Democratic U.S. Rep. John Conyers (who resigned in December 2017). Tlaib, a former state representative, will become one of the first Muslim women to serve in Congress (the other being Ilhan Omar from Minnesota).

Finally, U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence kept her seat in the 14th congressional district.

U.S. Senate

Only one of Michigan’s two U.S. Senate seats was up for grabs this year, and while it seemed like a given to some, early results in the race of U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow versus Republican John James made others nervous. The New York Times reports she has retained her seat by garnering 52.2 percent of the vote to James’s 45.8 percent.

State Senate

Republicans have held a super majority in this chamber since 2010, first 26-12 and then 27-11 after the 2014 elections. After Tuesday, that margin will shrink to 22-16 and includes the ousting of two Republican incumbents: Sen. Marty Knollenberg in the 13th (Oakland County) and Sen. Margaret O’Brien in the 20th (Kalamazoo). Newcomer and Democrat Mallory McMorrow sent Knollenberg packing, while former state representative Sean McCann won his rematch against O’Brien.

Democrats also flipped the 12th Senate District, currently held by Republican Sen. James Marleau, in a very slim victory – of about 935 votes, according to reports – earned by Democrat Rosemary Bayer against Republican state Rep. Mike McCready. The 29th Senate District went to Democratic state Rep. Winnie Brinks and another Democratic pickup came in the  7th with Dayna Polehanki, who bested Republican state Rep. Laura Cox, wife to former Attorney General Mike Cox.

Other notables include current Democratic state Rep. Erika Geiss becoming the first Latina woman elected to the state Senate (will represent the 6th Senate District); Democratic state Rep. Jeremy Moss becoming the first openly gay state senator (will represent the 11th Senate District); and Democratic state Rep. Stephanie Chang (senator-elect for the 1st Senate District) becoming the first woman to be named Democratic minority floor leader (as of Thursday morning).

State House

Republicans currently hold a 63-47 majority that will substantially decrease to 58-52 in January, due in part to a surge in voter turnout, a number of sitting state representatives electing to run for state senate instead, and finally, term limits for others. The most recent reports suggest Michigan’s voter turnout came in around 4.3 million – one million more than the last gubernatorial election cycle, and the highest turnout in nearly 50 years.

Overall, Democrats flipped six seats but saw one of theirs flip to Republican, giving Democrats a net gain of five seats, including ousting a Republican incumbent seeking re-election in the 20th House District. A full list of the winners and their districts can be viewed here.

Ballot Proposals

Michigan passed all three ballot proposals – legalizing certain amounts of marijuana for those 21 and up (55.9 percent yes to 44.1 percent no); creating an independent redistricting commission as opposed to leaving it up to the party in charge at the time of new census numbers (61.2 percent support versus 38.8 percent opposed); and increased voter rights in the state’s Constitution, including the restoration of straight-ticket voting, no-reason absentee and same-day registration (66.9 percent support to 33.1 percent opposed).

The most popular proposal to cast a decision on was marijuana (about 4.19 million), followed by voters’ rights (about 4.12 million), and then redistricting/ending gerrymandering (about 4 million).


To view all the results in detail, as well as judgeship races, see the secretary of state’s unofficial results here.

Danielle Emerson

Danielle Emerson