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Lawmaker Hoadley narrowly wins Democratic primary to take on Upton

State Rep. Jon Hoadley has pulled out a narrow victory in the Democratic primary to become the party's nominee in a likely competitive general election race in Southwest Michigan against longtime Republican U.S. Rep. Fred Upton.

Hoadley had 52% of the vote compared with 48% for Jen Richardson, a mother of two and a teacher at the Kalamazoo Area Math and Science Center. Hoadley captured 62% of the vote in his home turf of Kalamazoo County, where a plurality of the votes in the Democratic primary came from.

Teacher Jen Richardson is running for Congress in the Democratic primary in Michigan's 6th District.

Richardson had unexpectedly led the primary tally for most of Tuesday night. She conceded the race Wednesday, but said her campaign tapped a sentiment the party establishment has failed to do.

"People are tired of career politicians, who are predominantly wealthy, white men, that continue to act in the interest of personal gain, political party and corporations above the needs of our communities," Richardson said in a statement.

A loss would have been a major blow to Hoadley, who was favored to win and netted endorsements from high-profile Democrats including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, former presidential hopeful Sen. Kamala Harris of California and progressives including U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Detroit and Attorney General Dana Nessel. 

Hoadley of Kalamazoo has raised over $1.37 million for his campaign to Richardson's $74,500, which mainly came from grassroots supporters.

Democrats are targeting Upton's district and last week added Hoadley to the Democratic congressional fundraising organization's select "Red to Blue" program for candidates who had hit thresholds for local support, campaign organization and fundraising.

State Rep. Jon Hoadley

Political observers around Michigan had written off the primary contest as a "done deal" for Hoadley, said Adrian Hemond, CEO of the Grassroots Midwest consulting group in Lansing. But Tuesday's vote totals showed a close race between Hoadley and Richardson.

"Obviously he should have taken the primary more seriously based on what we're seeing right now," said Hemond, noting Hoadley clearly didn't spend enough of his war chest on the primary. 

Hoadley, minority vice chairman of the state House Appropriations Committee, would be the first openly gay member of Congress from Michigan if elected. 

Hoadley's victory in Tuesday's primary comes after a story in the New York Post Tuesday. The story claims that, before Hoadley's election to state politics in 2014, he wrote blog posts discussing going to a gay bar to “learn about crystal meth," describing sexual partners as “victims” and an odd reference to a “four year old wearing a thong."

His campaign in a statement to the Post dismissed the entries as “bad college poetry.”

“Because of 150,000 deaths from COVID and a collapsing economy, Congressman Fred Upton’s chances of getting reelected are drowning so quickly that the Republicans have mistaken bad college poetry for a life preserver,” a spokeswoman said.

But Richardson cited the story in announcing she would not yet endorse Hoadley against Upton. "We must hold our elected officials accountable for their actions and to the highest standards of integrity," she said.

Richardson ran on her background growing up in a working-class family — railing against wealthy politicians spending their careers in Washington and losing touch with the community. 

She had endorsements from a political action committee called Moms In Office and the group Moms Demand Action, which presses for gun reform.

Upton, first elected in 1986, is Michigan's senior Republican in Congress and former chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Upton, a moderate conservative who has occasionally voted against President Donald Trump, also faced a primary challenge Tuesday, prevailing over Trump loyalist Elena Oelke 62% to 37%, according to unofficial returns. 

“I remain absolutely committed to working with anyone of any party to solve problems and put southwest Michigan first," Upton said in a statement.

"The race this November will offer a contrast between two visions, and our message will highlight the need to put people over politics. Cooperation and compromise work better than disdain and division."

The 6th District includes Berrien, Cass, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph and Van Buren counties and most of Allegan County.

mburke@detroitnews.com