Stevens edges out Epstein in Michigan's 11th District

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
Haley Stevens, Democratic candidate for Michigan's 11th Congressional District, gives a thumbs up as she exits her polling place Tuesday,  in Rochester Hills.

Democrat Haley Stevens defeated Republican Lena Epstein on Tuesday in an election to decide who replaces retiring GOP U.S. Rep. Dave Trott of Birmingham.

Stevens received 52.1 percent of the votes compared to Epstein's 44.9 percent with all precincts reporting, according to unofficial results. 

They were trailed by Libertarian Leonard Schwartz of Oak Park with 1.7 percent and independent candidate Cooper Nye of Wolverine Lake with 1.4 percent.

Stevens declared victory around 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, saying she was humbled and honored to represent Michigan's 11th District in Congress.

"It's time to put politics aside to deliver for Michigan," Stevens said in a statement. "I look forward to rolling up my sleeves on day one to help lower healthcare costs, stand up for our public schools, and protect good-paying, Michigan jobs."

Stevens' win ensures that Michigan will add another woman to its delegation next year, as well as its first representative of the millennial generation.

See more: U.S. House race results

The contest was dubbed the "Trump vs. Obama" match-up because Epstein, a businesswoman from Bloomfield Township, co-chaired President Donald Trump's Michigan campaign, and Stevens of Rochester Hills was an appointee of President Barack Obama — most notably as chief of staff of the auto rescue task force.

Republican candidate for Michigan's 11th Congressional District, Lena Epstein greets supporter Dr. Samir Hanna, Tuesday in Troy.

"Epstein all the way in Michigan House 11. She is a wonderful person and, at the same time, a real fighter. Has my Strong Endorsement!" Trump tweeted Tuesday afternoon.

House race to provide Mich.'s first millennial rep

Trump won the district by 4 percentage points in 2016, but he had an unfavorability rating of 56 percent to 57 percent in three Detroit News-WDIV polls during the general election campaign.

Nationally, the president has been particularly unpopular in highly educated areas, and Michigan's 11th District, which covers parts of Wayne and Oakland counties, is the state's most well-educated.  

Both candidates have struggled with name identification.

Mary Miner of Birmingham said voted for all Democrats on Tuesday, including Stevens.

“She is a local woman who is in favor of gun control,” among other issues, said Miner, who added that she used to vote for a mix of Republicans and Democrats but no more.

“Lately, they don’t have the guts to stand up for the truth, she said about Republicans, whom she called "sheep."

Frank Pawlicki, a pharmacist from Novi, said Trump played a major role in many of his decisions at the ballot box on Tuesday, including his vote for Stevens.

“I voted for more Democrats than I usually do,” Pawlicki said. “I fear his (Trump’s) agenda. And I feel the only way to do something about it is to put another check in the system” by voting for Democrats.

Stevens has campaigned on strengthening manufacturing, a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage, a public insurance option in the Affordable Care Act and "standing up to Trump." She wants to end the gender pay gap and supports paid family leave.

Haley Stevens, candidate for Michigan's 11th Congressional District seat,  greets supporters at an election night party in Birmingham.

Stevens, 35, grew up in Rochester Hills, graduating from Seaholm High School in Birmingham and American University in Washington, D.C., where she also attended graduate school. 

She worked for the state Democratic Party organizing volunteers during the 2006 elections in Grand Rapids, later working on Clinton and Obama's 2008 presidential campaigns. 

Epstein, 37, has campaigned in the mold of Trump as a political outsider with business acumen. She strongly backs the president's America First agenda, including his border wall, tariffs and tax cuts. 

Epstein was raised in Bloomfield Hills and graduated from Detroit Country Day School and Harvard University and later the University of Michigan with a master's in business administration. She co-owns her family's business, Vesco Oil, a distributor of automotive and industrial lubricants in Southfield.

Epstein ran into controversy more than a week ago when she invited a Messianic Jewish minister to pray at an Oakland County rally attended by Vice President Mike Pence in Waterford Township. 

Rabbi Loren Jacobs of the Messianic congregation Shema Yisrael in Bloomfield Hills prayed for the victims of the mass shooting in Pittsburgh, and Pence called him a "leader in the Jewish community here in Michigan." 

But most Jewish leaders consider Messianic Judaism to be deceptive and not part of the Jewish religion, as followers consider Jesus to be the Messiah. A number of Jews spoke out on social media saying the move was insensitive or offensive.

Epstein, who is Jewish, said she extended the invitation because "we must unite as a nation — while embracing our religious differences — in the aftermath of Pennsylvania." 

She said anyone attacking her or Pence over the prayer is “guilty of nothing short of religious intolerance and should be ashamed. This was an effort at unity, yet some are trying to create needless division to suit their political goals."