In a year marked by deep fissures, Michigan voters in Tuesday's primary will sort through divisions within the political parties to decide which candidates could have a fighting chance in November.

Several Democratic races pit candidates backed by unions and establishment officials against progressive "outsiders" who are promoting hard-left proposals for universal health care and other issues championed by democratic socialist U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders.

On the Republican side, candidates have waged battle on who most closely aligns with the policies of President Donald Trump and whose is the most conservative platform.

In three open congressional seats, all women could advance to the general election in the 9th, 11th and 13th congressional districts. In the 13th District in Wayne County, there is no GOP candidate on the ballot in the race to replace resigned U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Detroit, making the winner the likely victor in November, too.

Republicans are hoping to nominate candidates to retain control of the governor's office, the state Legislature and Michigan's U.S. House delegation, while Democrats are seeking to select nominees who will help produce a "blue wave" in November and take control of those chambers.

Tuesday's primary also could produce a string of other historic firsts. 


Former State Rep. Rashida Tlaib could position herself to become the first Muslim woman elected to Congress, while former Detroit health director Abdul El-Sayed could become the country's first Muslim governor if he manages to win the primary and general elections. 

The Indian-born Shri Thanedar, who is also running for governor, would be Michigan's first Indian-American governor if successful.

Farmington Hills businessman John James could become the first African-American in more than four decades to represent Republicans in a race for high-profile statewide office. And Democrat Suneel Gupta, running in Michigan's 11th District, would be Michigan's first Indian American in Congress if he is victorious in the primary and November elections. 

"So many people see this campaign as so much more than getting me elected. It's a message for the nation, and that's a tremendous amount of pressure on me — on top of making sure that I'm getting out to the doors and raising the money we need and making sure my volunteers are loved and taken care of," Tlaib said.

Polls are open until 8 p.m. Tuesday. If absentee ballots are any indication, the turnout for the primary election is likely to set a record as voters decide on nominees for offices that range from some of the highest in the state to local nominees and millage requests.

Race for governor

In a governor's race that’s been a real slug fest among Republican and Democratic candidates, early rhetoric pitted career politicians against fresh perspectives. More recently, the infighting has devolved into allegations of questionable campaign financing and misuse of public office.

Attorney General Bill Schuette and former Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, the respective front runners for the Republican and Democratic tickets, are considered the establishment favorites, along with Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Calley.

Self-titled progressive Democrats Shri Thanedar and Abdul El-Sayed have promised a leftist platform should either win the governor’s race, an ideology that would try to deliver on promises such as single-payer health care and big tax hikes on the wealthy.  

Schuette, Calley, State Sen. Patrick Colbeck of Canton Township and Saginaw obstetrician Jim Hines, all Republican candidates for governor, have touted their support of Trump's policies, but only Schuette snagged his endorsement.

And, in a first in Michigan history, the Libertarian Party has qualified for the primary ballot, with John Tatar and Bill Gelineau competing for governor. 

While Schuette and Whitmer have been the favored nominees in the run-up to the primary, the 2016 election proved no candidate should get too comfortable before the polls close, said Dave Dulio, chairman of the political science department at Oakland University.

“Polling is more and more difficult these days,” Dulio said. “When done right and well, it’s still a really good predictor of election outcome. But polls can also miss.”

Fierce Congress competition

In Congress, key seats are up for grabs around Michigan, including three in Metro Detroit where women nominees would ensure female Democratic candidates for five southeast Michigan congressional district races in November.

While incumbent U.S. Reps. Brenda Lawrence of Southfield and Debbie Dingell of Dearborn will run unopposed in their Democratic primaries, female Democratic U.S. House hopefuls would have to beat male opponents in the 9th, 11th and 13th districts.

Depending on what happens Tuesday, the general election could be the “Year of the Woman 2.0,” Dulio said, a repeat of a similar phenomenon in 1992.

“Once women decide to run, they’re successful,” he said. “I think you’ll see a lot of female candidates win across the country.”

Given that dynamic, the race in the 11th District could prove interesting if Republican Lena Epstein of Bloomfield Hills and Democrat Haley Stevens of Rochester Hills emerge from the primary as nominees Tuesday, Dulio said.

“You’ve got two females facing off in what, in this cycle, could be a pretty competitive race,” he said.

The 13th District primary will be interesting, if not slightly confusing for voters, Dulio said, as several candidates for either party campaign both to finish off the remainder of former U.S. Rep. John Conyers’ term and fill his seat for a full 2-year term that starts in January. 

Conyers served for nearly 53 years before resigning last year in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations by former staffers.

“Through no fault of their own, it could very easily confuse a voter to basically see the same contest twice on the same ballot,” Dulio said.

The 8th District race, come November, is expected to be a bellwether for the Democratic Party’s chances to flip key congressional seats from red to blue.

In that race, incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop of Rochester will have to fend off Lokesh Kumar to get the GOP nomination. Democratic front runner Elissa Slotkin of Holly will vie for her party’s nomination against Democrat Chris Smith of East Lansing.

James and Sandy Pensler, a Grosse Pointe financier, will compete Tuesday for the GOP nomination to take on Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing, who is seeking her fourth term. 

A West Point grad, James has earned Trump's endorsement in the primary race and received a boost from the president in a robo call to Republican voters Monday. Pensler has loaned his campaign $5 million and inundated the television airwaves with ads.

Clerk's seat in Macomb

While voters grapple with a slew of local candidates and millage proposals, the clerk’s race in Macomb County is one that could draw a statewide audience curious about the fate of the controversial seat.   

A total of 17 candidates are competing to replace controversial former county Clerk Karen Spranger, who was removed from office in March after 14 months of clashing with county commissioners in court over office operations.

The six Democrats and 11 Republicans running in the primary include two former state legislators, two military veterans, a law student and an accounting clerk.

Staff Writer Melissa Nann Burke contributed

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How to vote

Only registered voters can participate in Tuesday's primary election. Here is what voters need to know:

  • * The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Find your voting location at:
  • * Voters should present photo identification, such as a Michigan driver's license or identification card. Voters without such ID can sign a brief affidavit stating they don't possess a photo ID, which will allow them to vote and have their ballots counted.
  • * In the primary, voters must keep their votes to a single party column — either the Democratic, Republican or Libertarian races. Voters aren't allowed to "split their tickets" or cast "straight-party" votes.
  • * Voters who still have absentee ballots must turn in their ballots in person to their local clerk's office.
  • * Voters are banned from wearing or displaying election-related materials at the polls, including clothing, buttons, stickers, pamphlets and fliers. They also can't have them within 100 feet of an entrance to a polling place. 
  • * Voters are banned from using video cameras, still cameras and other recording devices at the polls. 
  • * Find information about your voting status and absentee ballot at:

Source: Michigan Secretary of State’s Office

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