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Upton wins reelection in southwest Michigan U.S. House race

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Longtime U.S. Rep. Fred Upton defeated state Rep. Jon Hoadley to maintain his seat representing the southwest corner of Michigan. 

Upton was ahead with 58% to Hoadley's 38% early Wednesday with 94% of precincts reporting unofficial results. 

The contest was considered among the most competitive in the state this fall, though political analysts gave Upton the edge, rating the district as leans or likely GOP.

Upton declared victory shortly before 1 a.m. Wednesday, saying he was "grateful for the trust" to serve the region for another two years.

"Our country faces enormous challenges, and I remain committed to working with the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus to get things done in a closely divided political climate," Upton said in a statement. 

"We absolutely have to come together for another COVID relief package that passes the bipartisan muster to aid our communities, health care providers, small businesses, schools, families, and the most vulnerable. Testing and an FDA-approved vaccine are critical to restoring our way of life."

Upton spent much of Tuesday at the busiest intersection in his district, which is at Milham and Westnedge in Portage, waving signs and greeting motorists, he said. 

"Our numbers have been good all along, and we verified it today just based on comments on the street, whether it be in St. Joe or Kalamazoo, and we've made a lot of calls to folks and the feedback has been positive," Upton said in an interview late Tuesday.

Veteran Advocate for Fred Upton, Toni Kennedy (right) listens to U.S. Representative Fred Upton, one of the "longest-serving" members of Congress and who is running for reelection, as he addresses roughly 25 campaign staff and volunteers before they distribute campaign literature in Portage, Michigan on October 3, 2020.

"We feel very good about where we are, but everyone's always nervous. I mean, let's face it. We've never felt overconfident. But we've done everything right, and that's put us to the distance in 24 previous elections." 

Because of the absentee ballot count, Upton said he wasn't expecting to know the final breakdown in the race until Wednesday. He noted that Kalamazoo County wasn't going to start counting its 80,000 absentee ballots until midnight.

The 67-year-old has served in Congress since 1987. In his campaign for an 18th term, the former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee stressed his bipartisan wins and his willingness to work with anyone including Democrats and President Donald Trump "to get the job done."

Hoadley conceded the race Wednesday morning, thanking his supporters and election workers for making sure every vote was counted. 

“We’re incredibly proud of the people-centered campaign we ran, and I look forward to continuing to work for positive change in our communities," he said in a statement.

Hoadley said his team had heard "only good things" at the polls Tuesday, with people saying things were civil, and that there were good conversations. He said southwest Michigan "deserves someone who is going to actually represent our values, who's going to show up and listen to the constituents, who's going to fight for health care, and the environment, quality, and racial justice and choice and so many other issues."

Hoadley, 37, of Kalamazoo would have been the first openly gay member of Congress from Michigan. His platform included Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and expanding broadband access. In Lansing, he serves as the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee. 

Two years ago, Upton had his closest margin of victory yet when he defeated Democrat Matt Longjohn by 4.5 percentage points after a fierce campaign.

Democrats were bullish on winning the district in 2020, with Kalamazoo, the most populous part of the district, trending more Democratic as a city. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer nearly won the congressional district in 2018, coming within a half a percentage point of Republican Bill Schuette there. 

Upton outraised Hoadley this cycle through Oct. 14, bringing in $3.28 million to Hoadley's $2.7 million. Upton had a cash advantage going into the final three weeks of the race, reporting $864,000 in the bank to Hoadley's $248,200, according to disclosure reports.

Hoadley had portrayed the congressman as out of touch with the district after 34 years in office, saying he's "too lockstep with Donald Trump."

He also criticized Upton's record on climate change, immigration and LGBTQ equality, but his campaign has focused heavily on health care, stressing Upton's part in the GOP attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Upton has said it's time to move on from trying to repeal the law and last year voted to condemn a lawsuit brought by GOP attorneys general and backed by Trump's Justice Department aiming to nullify the Affordable Care Act. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case next week.

A group supporting Upton called Defending Main Street has run ads highlighting Hoadley's support for Medicare For All — which would eliminate private insurance and funds health care through the government — by using clips of Biden pummeling the idea during the Democratic primary debates. 

Biden endorsed Hoadley but in 2018 praised Upton during a speech in Benton Harbor as "one of the finest guys I’ve ever worked with."

Upton went after Hoadley in ads claiming the state lawmaker supports "defunding" police, featuring local sheriffs. Hoadley points to his vote in the Legislature to boost funding for public safety through the cost-sharing line of the state budget. 

Upton's campaign also argued Hoadley backed Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s 45-cents-per-gallon gas tax increase proposal, but he has said he only helped introduce the budget bill proposing the spending as part of the executive's recommendation. 

The Legislature would have to vote to raise the gas tax to generate the money in a separate bill, and it has not done so.

mburke@detroitnews.com