Pro-Trump immigrant challenges Stevens for Congress

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News

Lansing — A Taiwanese immigrant who says she lived in the United States illegally for 16 years before becoming a citizen by marriage is running for Congress as a pro-Trump Republican in Michigan’s 11th Congressional District.

Republican Whittney Williams of Canton Township announced her campaign for Michigan's 11th Congressional District on Aug. 19, 2019.

Whittney Williams of Canton Township, an auto show product specialist who has also worked as an actress and model, is the first candidate to enter the GOP primary for the chance to take on first-term U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Rochester Hills.

The 37-year-old lacks political experience and is not a household name, but her campaign is touting her unique story as an immigrant who supports President Donald Trump and his plan to build a massive wall at the Mexican border. She came to the United States at 10 years old and said her family overstayed its visa.

“As a pro-life conservative who supports strong border security, Democrats are going to have a hard time using their typical playbook against me,” Williams said in an announcement video.

Williams was not available for an interview Monday morning after officially launching the campaign, which plans to roll out more policy details at a later stage. She currently serves as a diversity director for the 11th Congressional District Republican Committee.

Stevens, who last year flipped a Republican seat previously held by retired GOP Rep. Dave Trott, has posted impressive fundraising numbers as she prepares for her first re-election campaign. She raised $735,870 in the three months ended June 30, the largest haul last quarter of any Michigan congressional incumbent.

The district includes portions of northwestern Wayne and southwestern Oakland counties. Trump won there by 5 percentage points in 2016, but the district is trending Democratic and Stevens last year won election by more than 6 points over GOP businesswoman Lena Epstein.

Scott Hagerstrom, who was state director for Trump’s 2016 campaign, is serving as Williams’ chief strategist and called Stevens a “phony moderate” who has voted with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a group of four freshmen liberals known as "the squad.”

The National Republican Campaign Committee in February listed Stevens as one of 55 House Democrats on their election target list for 2020, and Trump had reportedly attempted to recruit Farmington Hills businessman John James to run in the district.

James instead launched his second run for U.S. Senate, this time against incumbent Democrat Gary Peters. It's likely other candidates will jump into the 11th District Congressional District race. 

Stevens’ campaign cited the failed James recruitment last week while launching a mid-quarter fundraising drive, suggesting Republicans had “ramped into overdrive" to defeat her.

"We admit it: We are concerned that National Republicans will do everything they can to stop the progress Haley is making, from fighting for common sense gun safety to helping girls pursue careers in STEM fields," the fundraising email said.