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In a commentary for the New York Times Monday, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow pushed back against the argument that a “pink wave” was responsible for female Democratic candidates' victories in last week's election.

Stabenow wrote that the wins were not because Democratic candidates focused on “women’s issues,” but because they were qualified individuals who ran positive campaigns centered on basic issues such as jobs, water, roads, health care and education.

In the commentary, Stabenow pointed toward several Michigan wins, including that of Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer, Secretary of State-elect Jocelyn Benson, Attorney General-elect Dana Nessel and U.S. Reps.-elect Elissa Slotkin, Haley Stevens and Rashida Tlaib.

“People were not talking about our gender and whether it was O.K. to have women in all of these top positions,” Stabenow wrote. “Instead, they were talking about our qualifications and who was the best candidate. That, to me, was truly historic.”

Stabenow’s assessment wasn’t too far off the mark, though there was a noted predisposition toward female candidates ahead of the election, said Richard Czuba, a pollster for Lansing-based Glengariff Group.

“Each one of those races was very unique in its own right,” said Czuba, who conducted three general election polls for The Detroit News and WDIV. “What helped these women was allowing them to run the race they needed to win.”

Stabenow defeated Republican challenger John James, a political novice from Farmington Hills, 52 percent to 46 percent, the smallest margin of re-election victory for the 68-year-old Lansing Democrat.  

Republicans have downplayed the effect of flipped seats across the United States, arguing the onslaught of Democratic victories was more tepid than predicted. 

"History was against us in the midterms, but the grassroots support for (President Donald Trump) and the (GOP) ground game turned what was supposed to be a 'blue wave' into a ripple," said Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel tweeted Monday. 

Democrats benefited from the typical mid-term swing toward the opposition party and a historic moment in which women are “realizing their political power” among female voters, said Adrian Hemond, a Democrat and CEO of Grassroots Midwest, a bipartisan political consulting firm in Lansing.

But those factors alone can’t explain the consistent wins for women on this year’s ballot, Hemond said. Female candidates also proved through their own focused campaigns that they’re serious contenders for any seat.

“There was a lot of hand-wringing from Democrats that we would nominate an all-female statewide ticket,” Hemond said. “We did that, and they all won.”

Whitmer’s “disciplined” campaign played a large role not only in her own success, but for women candidates farther down the ballot, Hemond and Czuba said. 

“Every step of the way in that primary she faced men saying she wasn’t running the right campaign or that she wasn’t running enough of a campaign and every step of the way she proved them wrong,” Czuba said.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

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