Epstein, Stevens to face off in the 11th District for U.S. House

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
Lena Epstein, running in the Republican primary in the 11th District, greets people at the Traffic Jam auto show in Troy on Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018.

Republican Lena Epstein and Democrat Haley Stevens will face off in the fall general election after winning their respective primary races for U.S. House on Tuesday in Michigan's 11th District, according to unofficial results. 

With all precincts reporting, the largely self-funded Epstein had won 30.9 percent of the vote, and Stevens won 27 percent.

Latest election results from Metro Detroit and Michigan

Ten candidates, five Democrats and five Republicans, are running in the race for the chance to succeed GOP Rep. Dave Trott of Birmingham, who is retiring after two terms. The candidate had spent over $5 million collectively through July 18. 

Haley Stevens

The battle over the open seat is considered a toss-up in November, with a chance that it flips to the Democrats after having been held by Republicans for decades. Voters in the district supported President Donald Trump by less than 5 percentage points in 2016 but went for President Barack Obama in 2008.

The district includes Livonia, Plymouth, Canton Township, Birmingham, Troy and Novi.

The Republican primary has been marked by negative attacks and even a defamation lawsuit, while Democrats have tried to differentiate themselves by their experience and views on what the party's priorities should be.

"I am honored and humbled by the support from voters across southeast Michigan.  I thank my competitors for a spirited campaign, volunteers for their hard work knocking doors rain or shine, and family for encouragement," Epstein said in a statement.

"We will unite our party for the tough fight ahead and reach out to Democrats and Independents to let them know they have a home on our campaign."

 Trump, whose Michigan campaign Epstein co-chaired, on Wednesday tweeted his congratulations "on a job well done. Also, thanks for your great support!"

Aside from Epstein, the other Republicans who competed in the race included former state Rep. Rocky Raczkowski, state Sen. Mike Kowall, state Rep. Klint Kesto and former U.S. Rep. Kerry Bentivolio.

Raczkowski finished second behind Epstein with 25.5 percent of the vote, followed by Kowall with 18.3 percent, according to unofficial returns. 

The Democrats included Stevens, state Rep. Tim Greimel, Fayrouz Saad, Suneel Gupta and Nancy Skinner. Greimel finished second behind Stevens with 21.8 percent of the vote, followed by Gupta with 21.3 percent, according to unofficial results. 

“As a woman in manufacturing, I have seen the incredible growth of our advanced manufacturing economy and understand the challenges facing businesses throughout Southeastern Michigan,” Stevens said in a statement.

“Years of partisan bickering and dysfunction in Washington have not served the best interests of the hard working families who power our economy. The time for inaction is over — on day one in Congress, Michiganders can count on me to fight for our state, just like I always have.”

Erma Whitmire, 71, of Birmingham said Tuesday she voted for Epstein in part because she likes to pick candidates who will bring diversity to office, and Epstein is Jewish.

“I think she’s a wealthy businesswoman. I hope she takes the job to task, and we hold her accountable," Whitmire said. "I think she’s strong.”

Yugang Xiao of Northville cast his ballot for Epstein because he wanted a strong conservative voice in Congress.

“She’s a conservative,” said Xiao, 50, a software engineer. “I think, right now, in this country, the social issues are more important than the economy.”

Mary Anne Alioto of Birmingham said she voted for Kesto based on all the campaign ads she saw. 

"They were talking about his voting record and how he was there 100 percent of the time. He was putting Lena down because she wasn't there 87 percent of the time," Alioto said. 

"If they're not showing up to do anything, I don't want them there. They're not working." 

Kesto has criticized Epstein for missing 87 percent of quarterly board meetings of the Michigan Children's Trust Fund since 2012. Her campaign has said she had to phone in or miss meetings to do work and family commitments.

Jason Huizing wore an anti-Trump T-shirt to vote Tuesday, casting his ballot for Greimel. For him, he said electability is one of the most important issues.

“That’s my goal — to get Trump and the Republicans out of office,” the Northville resident said.

Caprice Artz of Birmingham cast her ballot for Stevens on the advice of a friend who's a political consultant, she said. 

"I voted for all women. I didn't even think about that," Artz said. 

Like Trump, Epstein, 37, campaigned as an "outsider" candidate with business experience.

Epstein initially campaigned for the U.S. Senate before switching to the House after Trott announced his decision to retire.

She lives in Bloomfield Township, just outside the 11th District, and has not previously held public office. 

She studied economics at Harvard University and returned home in 2003 to help manage the family business at Vesco Oil Corp. in Southfield, an automotive and industrial lubricant distributor that she co-owns. 

She was born in Bloomfield Hills in 1981 to a family of Jewish Democrats. On her mother's side, the family founded Winkelman's department stores in Detroit. Her father's side has been in the oil business for 70 years.

She had her first baby during the campaign and daughter, Emma, will be 10 months old this month. 


Stevens' campaign has stressed the need to strengthen manufacturing. She touts her role as the chief of staff of Obama's auto task force that oversaw the financial bailout of Chrysler and General Motors from 2009-11. 

Stevens, 35, got a late endorsement from former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Sunday, and Clinton recorded a robocall for her that went out Monday.

She was working at the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute in Chicago when she decided to move back to Rochester Hills and run for office. 

Stevens is not new to politics, having worked on campaigns for Clinton and Obama campaigns in 2007 and 2008 and as a field organizer in Western Michigan for the state Democratic Party. 

She graduated from Seaholm High School in Birmingham and American University. 

Staff writer Maureen Feighan contributed.