District 7: Rep. Walberg wins re-election over Driskell

Jonathan Oosting, and Keith Laing

Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg has won re-election, holding off a challenge from Democratic state Rep. Gretchen Driskell in one of the hardest fought and most expensive congressional races in Michigan.

Driskell conceded the 7th Congressional District race late Tuesday as partial returns showed the incumbent with a solid lead. Walberg led by a margin of 58 percent to 37 percent with 46 percent of the vote in, according to the Associated Press.

“This has been a 22-month campaign since my opponent announced she was running three weeks after I was sworn in. It was a long, drawn out affair, but I think the issues won the day,” Walberg, R-Tipton, told The Detroit News.

Driskell called it a "difficult night" as she conceded the race. Her campaign cited uncharacteristically low Democratic turnout in areas of Eaton and Washtenaw counties, along with more urban areas of Jackson and Monroe counties.

"Despite the disappointing results of this election, I have been heartened by the deep and broad support of our message: that everyone deserves equality of opportunity, and that working families deserve a strong voice to represent them," Driskell, D-Saline, said in a statement.

Both 7th Congressional District candidates raised more than $2 million in campaign cash through Oct. 19. Driskell, a state legislator and former Saline Mayor, infused her campaign with a loan of $110,000 in late October.

Outside money also flowed into the race in the final weeks of the campaign, a sign of its national significance as Republicans and Democrats battled for control of congress.

The GOP-aligned American Action Network planned $350,000 in late spending advertising to benefit Walberg, a Christian pastor from the small town of Tipton.

The House Majority PAC, a group working to help Democrats win back control of the lower chamber, reported spending $220,643 on anti-Walberg television commercials, social media ads and direct mail two weeks out from the election.

Walberg said that when he was able to explain his record to voters, they realized he “voted with the district.”He called it “a privilege” to represent his district and said he hopes the county and congress can come together after a divisive campaign season.

“We certainly need to unify,” he said. “This country is just too divided right now."

Richard Yads of Whitmore Lake, who works for the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, voted for Walberg but acknowledged he does not know the Republican incumbent all that well.

“Having the Republican Party in, at least at the outset, will perhaps keep Donald in a position to do things correctly,” said Yads, 51, who also voted for GOP presidential nominee Donald Turmp.

Joe Ramwali of Whitmore Lake, who works at Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor, voted for Driskell.

“I think Tim Walberg’s an obstructionist,” said Ramlawi, 37. “I think he was part of a congressional cabal. Obama couldn’t get anything through. He got nothing through after 2010.”

Trade and trustworthiness emerged as top issues in the race, echoing themes from the presidential contest between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Driskell attacked Walberg early and often, labeling him “Trade Deal Tim” for his votes on U.S. agreements with Colombia, South Korea, Panama and Peru she argued cost the district jobs.

Walberg countered by suggesting she “lied” about her resume by calling herself a real estate “broker” even though she was only licensed in Michigan as a real estate salesperson.

Both candidates sought to paint each other as “extreme” in a district that trends moderate on the whole. The 7th includes Branch, Eaton, Hillsdale, Jackson, Lenawee and Monroe counties along with a portion of Washtenaw County.

Walberg has a history of narrow finishes in the district, but boundaries were redrawn ahead of the 2012 election. The move benefited the Republican incumbent, who won by more than 10 percentage points each of the past two cycles.

Walberg was first elected to the U.S. House in 2006 after defeating U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz in the Republican primary, but he lost to Democrat Mark Schauer by less than two percentage points in 2008. Two years later, Walberg beat Schauer in a rematch by less than five points and has since held the seat.