U.S. Rep. Tlaib wins Democratic primary in Michigan's 12th District for Congress

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib won the Democratic primary early Wednesday, essentially ensuring a third term in Congress in Michigan's newly redrawn 12th district.

Tlaib of Detroit had 64.4% to Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey's 20% with 35% of the votes counted. Lathrup Village Mayor Kelly Garrett trailed with 10% and former state Rep. Shanelle Jackson with 5%. She will face Republican Steven Elliott, who won a three-candidate primary in the 12th District, which is considered a Democratic stronghold. 

The 12th district includes Dearborn, Detroit's west side, Garden City, Inkster, Livonia, Redford Charter Township, Southfield and Westland. Oakland County communities of Southfield, Lathrup Village and Beverly Hills are also were drawn into the district by an independent citizens redistricting commission. 

Tlaib was resting when the results came in after midnight Tuesday, spokesman Denzel McCampbell told The Detroit News. The campaign was feeling good about the results throughout the night, he said.

"This is a campaign about reaching voters directly, knocking on 27,000 doors, meeting people where they are, on their doorsteps and about providing service-oriented politics. That's what we did, and these results show that," McCampbell said.

Tlaib is a Palestinian American who has opposed U.S. weapons sales to Israel.

Pro-Israel groups, including Atlanta-based Urban Empowerment Action PAC, have spent $200,000 to run an anti-Tlaib ad in the final two weeks of the race and planned to spend $750,000 total to boost Winfrey.

The PAC has said it's made up of a coalition of Black and Jewish business and civic leaders and that its goal is to help elect Black candidates to office who champion "common-sense solutions that uplift Black people." Two negative ads targeting Tlaib aired this weekend, including one targeting her support for defunding the police.

Tlaib's campaign has called the super PAC's involvement "another sad example of out of state billionaire interference in local races, spending millions to peddle lies and distortions and pushing a pro-corporate agenda." 

The congresswoman has responded by calling in the so-called "Squad" — her progressive female allies in Congress came to Detroit last week to rally to her defense. 

About 60% of Tlaib's current congressional district was drawn into the new 12th District. The progressive firebrand is seen as the likely front-runner in the race, which will see her national profile, local groundwork and at times divisive stances tested for a second time. 

At the newly renovated Adam Butzel Complex on Detroit’s northwest side, voters trickled Tuesday in while picking up children from summer programs.

“Women’s rights was the biggest thing going into this voting season. I voted for Rashida again,” said Ran Hutch, 30, who added she relied on name recognition as she wasn’t aware of the new redistricting and didn’t find names she was looking for. “I work on a fundraiser for abortion pills and what’s going on in the nation right now is insane.”

With the city of Dearborn drawn into the new 12th District, Tlaib could for the first time represent the city and its large Arab American population, something political insiders expect would solidify a win for the congresswoman.

However, the Arab American community is not historically wedded to either party, and those who vote Democrat don’t necessarily fall along the moderate or progressive ideological lines currently associated with the party, according to progressive political organizer Amer Zahr.

The progressive political causes may not be what attracts the community to her on election day, but Zahr says that as long as people show up to vote he expects Tlaib to perform “very, very well” among Arab American voters in Dearborn and throughout the district. 

At Dearborn's Bryant Middle School on the city's west side, few people came in around 5 p.m., but the ones who did said they also voted for Tlaib.

"I think she's generally doing a pretty good job. She's new to this district and looking at what she's done in the past, she needs the support now," said Lindsey Prodin, 20, from Dearborn.

Tlaib may be the most polarizing member of Michigan’s congressional delegation, but for her constituents, the divisive reputation has not appeared to have much of an impact on voter support. She easily won re-election in 2020, beating primary challenger and former Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones with 66% of the vote.

“It’s hers to lose," Mario Morrow, a Detroit-based political consultant, said of Tlaib.

The presence of Jackson and Barrett may help siphon off votes that Winfrey could otherwise have gotten in a one-on-one matchup with Tlaib, Morrow said.

“It would have been a tougher race for Rashida Tlaib if it was a one-on-one race," he said. "When you have all these candidates and the votes are split, but yet Rashida has a solid block, it's over."

Jonathan Kinloch, a local Democratic official and Wayne County commissioner, also expects Tlaib to prevail over Winfrey.

“A lot folks in Democratic circles feel that is a lost cause because Rashida has such huge, enormous international name recognition, and she has a strong support base in that district, which is 60% of her current district,” Kinloch said.

Three GOP candidates are running for the 12th: Steven Elliott, a veteran and business owner; James Hooper, a building tradesman; and Hassan Nehme, an entrepreneur.

Staff Writers Melissa Burke and Kayla Ruble contributed.

srahal@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @SarahRahal_