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Sixteen-term U.S. Rep. Fred Upton narrowly defeated Democratic political newcomer Matt Longjohn Tuesday in a contest that centered on health care, the Affordable Care Act and Upton's support of the GOP, according to unofficial results from the Associated Press. 

Warding off his closest challenge in decades, Upton, 65, defeated Matt Longjohn of Portage 50.1 percent to 45.8 percent with 100 percent of districts reporting early Wednesday. Stephen Young of the U.S. Taypayers party received 4.1 percent of the votes. 

A spokesman for Longjohn initially said they weren't conceding the race, alleging voting irregularities in Kalamazoo and Allegan counties, but Longjohn ultimately congratulated Upton mid-morning Wednesday.

"I’m proud of the campaign we ran against him and humbled by the amazing support it received," Longjohn said in a statement.

“Our campaign fought every day to make sure middle-class families had their voices heard and to demand protections for pre-existing conditions, essential health benefits, and the environment. I encourage Mr. Upton to remember how important these issues are to his constituents, and to engage in more meaningful interactions with 'All of Us' here in Southwest Michigan."

Health care was a central issue in the campaign between Upton and Longjohn. Longjohn, the former national health director for the YMCA, accused Upton of being beholden to interest groups and failing to protect health coverage.

Upton, meanwhile, stressed his bipartisan efforts and said he battled President Donald Trump over adding more money for the coverage of pre-existing conditions when Congress tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Tuesday's election marked one of Upton's closest re-election bids since he was first elected in the late 1980s. Vote totals over the last two decades show he handily defeated nearly every opponent he's faced. His closest race was in 2012 when he still beat his challenger by 12 percentage points.

Longjohn acknowledged earlier this fall that he faced an "uphill battle" to unseat Upton. Still, he said it was Upton's own amendment during the debate to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act that pushed him to run for office.

The 6th District includes Kalamazoo, St. Joseph, Berrien, Cass, Van Buren counties and most of Allegan County.

Eight outside groups have spent over $3 million trying to influence the race, according to FEC disclosures.

Upton, 65, defended his record during the campaign, saying he's always prided himself on reaching across the aisle to work with Democrats. He said he also supports rule changes in Congress that would give priority to bipartisan legislation.

Among the big spenders in this year's race was the group Change Now, a super PAC supported in part by the League of Conservation Voters. The American Hospital Association PAC has run TV and digital ads in support of Upton. 

Longjohn accused Upton of being there when the Republicans and President Trump needed him and criticized the health care amendment as not going far enough to help those affected by pre-existing conditions to keep affordable health insurance coverage. 

But Upton said struck a deal that helped House Republicans pass a plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. He said at the time that he was seeking a better deal from the GOP-controlled Senate, but the legislation fizzled.

Upton has said it's now time to "move on" from the push to repeal the Affordable Care Act because it is unlikely to happen.  

mfeighan@detroitnews.com
Twitter: @mfeighan

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