District 1: Republican Bergman defeats Democrat Johnson

Melissa Nann Burke, and Keith Laing

Republican Jack Bergman declared victory Tuesday night over Democrat Lon Johnson for the open seat representing in northern Michigan in Congress.

U.S. Rep Jack Bergman, R-Watermeet

In unofficial returns, Bergman was leading 55 percent to 40 percent with nearly 90 percent of precincts reporting.

"I'm honored and humbled by what has occurred tonight. It’s a great night for my family, for supporters and the 1st District of Michigan," Bergman told The Detroit News.

Bergman, a retired airline pilot and Marine, and Johnson, former Michigan Democratic Party chairman, have battled on trade, health care and Social Security.

Bergman would succeed retiring Republican Rep. Dan Benishek, a surgeon from Crystal Falls, who is retiring after three terms. Outside groups pumped more than $4 million in independent expenditures into the 1st District, largely for attack ads.

"I’m a first time campaigner, so I didn’t really know what to expect. But what I was really hoping for was that the people -- when all the dust had cleared -- would see what the real issues were and make an informed decision on their votes," Bergman said.

"I'm heartened by all those interactions I had with folks that our message -- our very positive message -- was heard."

The district is considered one of 30 seats that Democrats needed in their uphill battle to try to regain control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Democrats had argued Bergman contracted himself on the issues and skipped multiple candidate forums across the 32-county district, which includes the Upper Peninsula and the top half of the Lower Peninsula.

Republicans portrayed Johnson as a party insider, trying to tie him to U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Lon Johnson

Both candidates faced accusations they’re not really from northern Michigan. Bergman, a retired Marine lieutenant general, has said he didn’t live full time in Watersmeet until the end of 2009. Johnson, former chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, bought his property in Kalkaska County in 2011.

On the issues, Johnson opposes privatizing Social Security, calling it a recipe for “risky’ Wall Street “schemes.” Bergman favors privatization in the long term but says he wouldn’t alter benefits for those in or approaching retirement.

Bergman would repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Johnson says the law needs improvements, including relief for the “unfair burden” it placed on small businesses.

Both candidates say they oppose the pending 12-nation trade deal with Asia known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Bergman, 69, had a hybrid career, working as a commercial airline pilot for Northwest Airlines for many years while serving in the Marine Corps Reserves. He was recalled to active duty from 2003-09. He also operates a small sales and distribution company for medical equipment.

He built a home in Watersmeet in 1998, although his military service and work elsewhere meant he didn’t live in Watersmeet until the end of 2009, he says. Bergman also owns a home outside Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in St. Francisville.

mburke@detroitnews.com

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