Stevens defeats Levin in Oakland Co. U.S. House primary

U.S. Rep. Haley Stevens defeated U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, a fellow Democratic member of Congress, who conceded after a bitter Democratic primary marked by inter-party scuffles and a proxy war over Israel.

Stevens, 39, of Waterford Township had 60% of the vote Tuesday evening and Levin, 61, of Bloomfield Township had 40%, with about 99% of votes counted. 

"My friends, it's not a mystery why we beat the odds. We stayed in Congress because we listened. I listened," Stevens said in declaring victory in Birmingham shortly after 9 p.m.

"Let's continue to do the work of the people, for Oakland County. Let's show this country how we do it. Let's continue to lead on education and say let's continue to make a difference," Stevens added. 

"Let's pass a national right to abortion care for the girls who are relying on us. Let's do it for the moms who never thought they'd see this day. Let's do it for the people."

Haley Stevens declares victory at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham on Tuesday night.

Levin conceded by phone shortly before 10:30 p.m. Tuesday and congratulated Stevens in remarks, saying she won "what looked like a solid victory" and urging his supporters to back her in the November general election. He objected when someone in the crowd booed. 

"I will support her and work with her and others to elect Democrats up and down the ballot in Oakland County and across Michigan and the United States on Nov. 8," Levin said in a statement, going on to praise his "people-powered" campaign. 

“Unfortunately, I was also the target of a largely Republican-funded campaign set on defeating the movement I represent no matter where I ran. I am humbled by neighbors throughout Oakland County and friends new and old across the country who stepped up to help me fight back until the very last minute."

Levin and Stevens, both two-term lawmakers, endeavored to take one another down in one of the most closely watched primary contests this summer, where outside spending ballooned to nearly $9 million as a pro-Israel group and others spent big to help Stevens.

The United Democracy Project, with ties to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has been the top spender in Democratic primaries this year, spending at least $24 million so far, according to OpenSecrets, including $4.1 million to boost Stevens, who is endorsed by AIPAC.

“Ultimately it was a triumph of geography and money, but I think also being the more moderate candidate in Democratic primaries is often where you want to be,” said Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

“There’s also a lot of outside money that came in and more that favored Stevens,” Kondik added. “But this seemed to be kind of the trajectory of the race, so this is not a surprise tonight.”

Levin's loss means the next term in Congress will be the first without a member of the Levin family of Michigan serving since 1979, when his late uncle Carl Levin was sworn into the Senate. Levin succeeded his father, Rep. Sander Levin, who retired in 2015.

After she declared victory, Stevens said in an interview Tuesday night that she has "so much respect and admiration for anyone who seeks to run for office or for reelection."

"I'm going to continue to honor my colleague and his family and the legacy that they come from," Stevens said. "And I'm also going to continue to stand up for everyday working people of Oakland County, who require a congresswoman wants to do good things for them."

After redistricting, Stevens and Levin both decided to run in the new 11th District, which covers Oakland County communities such as Pontiac, Royal Oak, Birmingham, Farmington Hills and West Bloomfield Township.

Stevens, a moderate, has run a campaign tailored to Oakland County interests like autos, manufacturing and small businesses, sounding very similar to her first two bids for Congress running in more conservative territory.

Her ads and other outreach largely focused on her record, including her work on former President Barack Obama’s auto task force, efforts to get more women and girls in science, technology and engineering career fields and work to address the nation's semiconductor shortage and gun violence.

She won the endorsements of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and retiring U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence of Southfield, who represents key parts of the new district.

In Auburn Hills, JoAnne Barnes, 68, said she was supporting Stevens' reelection on Tuesday.

“She’s very passionate, personable and has done a wonderful job thus far,” Barnes said. “I haven’t heard about the Israel money controversy, but I don’t believe that will impact her much.”

Brittany Taylor, 33, of Pleasant Ridge said Tuesday she was “sad to have to choose” between Stevens and Levin, but voted for Levin because of his passion for abortion rights.

“What really sent me over the edge was when he was protesting for abortion rights” outside of the U.S. Supreme Court after the high court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision, Taylor said. “That was really powerful for me.”

Levin’s union background swayed West Bloomfield voters Lisa and Matthew Wigent, both 54. They said it set him apart from Stevens.

“Everybody is talking about reproductive rights, and it’s very important to me, but I feel like every single Democrat that I could possibly have would be strong on that issue at this moment,” Lisa Wigent said. “But labor rights are very important to me and a lot of people aren’t talking about them, and I think that’s something where I would lean more towards Levin.”

Levin, a progressive, tried to draw a sharper contrast between the pair, emphasizing his record on union organizing, the Green New Deal and abortion rights. He was notably more aggressive in his approach, painting his opponent as a flip-flopper taking donations from corporate political action committees and voting based on what’s most politically convenient.

His messaging stressed his priorities of protecting workers and voting rights. He's also hitting areas where his positions differ from Stevens, such as shutting down Enbridge's Line 5 oil pipeline running through the Straits of Mackinac and adopting a single-payer health care system.

Levin was endorsed by the climate-focused Sunrise Movement and progressive heavyweights U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

He railed against the level of spending by AIPAC against him as the Jewish candidate, claiming it won't tolerate any criticism of Israel. That won't change Levin's support for a two-state solution or political and human rights for Palestinians, he said, warning about the outsized sway of one Republican-funded lobby on a Democratic primary. 

"I encouraged Rep. Stevens not to take this money, and many other people did. She took it anyway. She never even said a word about it," Levin said earlier this week.

"I don't think it's OK for the future of the Democratic Party to allow our Democratic primaries to be funded by right-wing interest groups."

Stevens noted her positions on Israel are in line with the majority of the House Democratic Caucus and said she would continue to affirm her belief in a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.

"I think it's unusual to make an entire campaign about outside spending, when my opponent is running on so many other values and principles," she said. "I think people would have loved to hear from him on that."

In the Republican primary, Mark Ambrose of Bloomfield Township defeated Matthew DenOtter of Waterford Township 70% to 30%. Stevens will face Ambrose in the fall election.y. 

mburke@detroitnews.com

Staff Writer Carol Thompson contributed.