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Detroit — The pink wave hit Michigan with force as female candidates swept statewide offices at the top of the ticket, flipped two U.S. House races, won both seats on the state Supreme Court and filled a record number of legislative seats.

Democrats helped build the wave by recruiting a roster of high-qualified female candidates and rode it to key victories in a midterm election marked by suburban female frustration with Republican President Donald Trump.

“Michigan really elected its next generation last night, and it’s women who are going to lead the state,” said pollster Richard Czuba, who watched the dynamics take shape over 2018. “We saw this in the numbers for months, that women in Southeast Michigan simply were putting their foot down. That is what drove this election.”

At the top of the ticket, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer will become Michigan’s second female governor, and Dana Nessel will be the first openly gay state official. Jocelyn Benson also won election as secretary of state, and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow won re-election to a fourth term.

Nessel and Benson have not previously held elective office.

Michigan also elected three female newcomers to the U.S. House — Elissa Slotkin of Holly, Haley Stevens of Rochester Hills and Rashida Tlaib of Detroit — marking the first time Michigan will have five women in the U.S. House and six women overall in Congress.

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Beth Clement, a Republican nominee, won her first election after being appointed to the seat by Gov. Rick Snyder. Democratic nominee Megan Cavanagh also won a spot on the bench, knocking off incumbent Justice Kurtis Wilder, a GOP nominee. 

“Early on, someone asked me, 'Are you going to run as a woman?' I didn’t know how to answer that,” Whitmer said Wednesday morning. “Is there a choice?”

Describing herself as a mom, a lawyer, a former legislator and former prosecutor, Whitmer said she ran to take on issues such as crumbling roads, struggling schools and drinking water contamination.

“But I do think it was a historic night,” she continued, noting wins by Slotkin in the 8th District and Stevens in the 11th District. “I think the more representation there is around the table that represents all the people of this state, the more likely we are to get politics people want and expect from our government.”

If the wave had an epicenter, it was in Oakland County.

There, Slotkin, a former defense official from Holly, unseated Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop of Rochester. Stevens, the former Obama auto rescue chief of staff from Rochester Hills, topped businesswoman Lena Epstein of Bloomfield Township to replace retiring GOP Rep. Dave Trott of Birmingham. Trump carried both districts in 2016.

They are among more than a record 100 women elected to the U.S. House on Tuesday.

“Congress just got spicier. It’s true,” said Tlaib, a former state legislator from Detroit who will be among the first two female Muslims to serve in Congress. 

“I think it’s great we changed the course of American history, but we really ran because being on the sidelines is not who we are. We’re tired of waiting for someone else to fix it.”

More: Stabenow defeats James in Michigan's U.S. Senate race

More: Bishop concedes to Slotkin in closely watched 8th District

More: Tlaib wins U.S. House seat, becomes among first Muslim-American women elected

More: Stevens edges out Epstein in Michigan's 11th District

More: Legislature: Female Dems Manoogian, McMorrow win in Oakland

Slotkin said it will be good to have more female voices in Congress.

“But to be honest, most of those women, if not all of them, were the most competent candidates in their race,” she said. 

“In the past, we haven’t always had the strongest candidates in tough districts. And you come upon a year where you have a lot of service candidates or veterans. They’ve run organizations or started businesses and decided to run.” 

Stevens said she’s the first woman elected to represent the 11th District and the first representative of the millennial generation to serve in federal office in Michigan. 

“I think we’re in a special moment in terms of electing new leaders,” said Stevens, who is 35. “People are looking for change, they’re looking for delivery, and they’re looking to restore trust.”

Michigan voters elected a record 53 women to the state Legislature. The previous high mark was 37, according to the MIRS subscription news service. Democrats will send 26 women to the state House, and Republicans 16. Eleven women will serve in the 38-member state Senate, including eight Democrats and three Republicans.

“In parts of my district, you were able to vote for a straight-woman ticket, from the governorship all the way down to the county commission,” said Democrat Mallory McMorrow of Royal Oak, an automotive industrial designer who unseated GOP Sen. Marty Knollenberg of Troy.

She was one of several successful female Democrats in Oakland County, including Mari Manoogian of Birmingham and Padma Kuppa of Troy, who both flipped Republican seats in the state House, and Rosemary Bayer of Beverly Hills, who won a GOP state Senate seat by beating Rep. Mike McCready, R-Bloomfield Township.

None of the three had significant previous political experience.

“What really stood out was how different we were," McMorrow said. "We weren’t running on our gender. We were running on our incredibly different background and experience."

McMorrow is an alumna of the Emerge Michigan program, which recruits Democratic women to run for office. She said she “could not have done it” without Benson, the former Wayne State University Law School dean who also ran for secretary of state eight years ago but on Tuesday was elected to the post. 

Benson “stepped into a class in our program in Emerge and convinced me to run for the office I wanted to run for and not talk myself out of it and try to run for something lower,” McMorrow said.

More: Benson defeats Treder Lang for Michigan secretary of state

More: U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence of Southfield wins third term

More: U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell re-elected to third term

More: Winning Whitmer pledges to 'get back to building bridges'

Knollenberg, who succeeded a Republican, then won the district by 16 points four years ago and previously served the region in the state House, acknowledged he faced headwinds. In the district, Trump’s favorability ratings were far under water.

“I think it was a challenge with what Donald Trump had to say on Twitter,” Knollenberg said. “It certainly came up, but at the same time, you’re hoping that voters wouldn’t judge me based on what he said or did, but on my record as a lawmaker.”

Oakland County proved a strength for Democrats. But what was poised to be a six-seat pickup in the state House was reduced to five when Republicans scored a surprise win the Upper Peninsula’s 110th District.

“The Republican Party is increasingly becoming the party of rural voters, non-college-educated voters, and I would say increasingly union men,” Czuba said. “The converse of that is the Michigan Democratic Party is increasingly becoming the party of urban and suburban voters with a college education.”

U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, stressed the diversity of women elected on Tuesday in terms of race, ethnicity, age and backgrounds. 

“The variety of women stepping forward is really representative of America,” said Lawrence, an African-American who is running to chair the Democratic Women’s Working Group. 

She highlighted that there was an uptick in female candidates on both sides of the aisle.

“I’m so proud of the fact that in America we are a turning a page in political leadership,” Lawrence said. 

“We are women. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. We are different than men, and it’s OK. Because in our brains, in our commitment, in our compassion, we can compete with any man on a political stage.” 

joosting@detroitnews.com

mburke@detroitnews.com

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