Michigan primary: Whitmer, Schuette emerge victorious in gubernatorial races

A competitive open seat governor's race highlights Tuesday's Michigan primary.

August 08, 2018, 12:38 AM

DETROIT -- In primary contests emblematic of the larger ideological battles raging in both the Republican and Democratic parties, the two favorites in the Michigan gubernatorial race emerged victorious from Tuesday night's primaries, setting up what is sure to be one of 2018's most competitive statewide races.

Gretchen Whitmer, a former state Senate leader, won the Democratic nomination for governor of Michigan Tuesday night, beating back a challenge from two insurgent, progressive candidates, while Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who has has the backing of President Donald Trump, scored the GOP nomination by defeating state Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, according to projections from The Associated Press.

Whitmer defeated 33-year-old former Detroit Public Health Director Abdul El-Sayed and businessman Shri Thanedar, two candidates that sought to claim the mantle of true progressive. If elected in November Whitmer would be Michigan's second female governor in its 181-year history.

The result is a loss for progressives hoping El-Sayed, who embraced policies like a "Medicare for All," healthcare system for Michigan, would pull off an upset victory in the race over Whitmer, the preferred candidate of the Democratic establishment in the race.

PHOTO: Abandoned buildings in Detroit, April 13, 2017.
Abandoned buildings in Detroit, April 13, 2017.
Patrick Gorski/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Thanedar, a self-funding businessman who had poured nearly $10 million of his own money into his campaign, ran ads mocking mispronunciations of his name and plastering his face on billboards in and around the Detroit area in an attempt to boost his name recognition.

Whitmer campaigned on Election Day beside Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who told ABC News that he doesn't foresee any problems uniting Democrats following a long primary battle.

"I think we’re going to have an opponent that’s going to unify us just fine," Duggan said walking door to door with Whitmer and shaking hands with constituents.

The competitive race to succeed a two-term Republican governor, and key U.S. House races around the cities of Detroit and Lansing have put Michigan front and center in the 2018 midterm landscape. For some Michigan voters, Tuesday's primary is about sending a message not just to the president, but to the nation about how the state views itself in the Trump era.

"Over the last year and a half people have realized that the auto industry doesn’t have a hold on the economy and Michigan," Ashwin Rane, a 24-year-old who works as a sales engineer in the auto industry, told ABC News, "If anything that’s shown them that they need to diversify and also bring people along with automation."

Both races encapsulate the battles raging within both parties: Democrats debating the degree to which they need to embrace the hard-left policies of Sanders, while Republicans triangulate around a President who has proved himself a chaotic and destabilizing force on the midterms.

Paolo Raimondi, an engineer in the auto industry from the Detroit suburb of Royal Oak, expressed concern over President Trump's trade policy and its potential impact on the state of Michigan.

"There is definitely a bit of worry because there are businesses constantly going into the U.S., out of the U.S. and a lot of the questions are up in the air because of tariffs and everything like that," Raimondi told ABC News. "It's definitely keeping people on edge about whether or not they want to bring business into the U.S. or if they want to keep it overseas."

But while the primary election in the state may settle many unresolved political questions, the questions about where Michigan and its economy go from here linger in the minds of many of the business owners and voters that call it home.

As the old lingers, Detroit embraces the new

The economic transition in Michigan is seen starkly within the Detroit city limits, where new businesses are flocking but troubles still persist. Those struggles are personified in the still vacant buildings that symbolize the economic powerhouse that Detroit once was, buildings like Michigan Central Station, which has stood vacant in the shadow of downtown Detroit in the city's Corktown neighborhood.

PHOTO: Michigan Central Station in Detroit, MI is pictured in August 2018. The Ford Motor Company purchased the building in May 2018 for redevelopment.
Michigan Central Station in Detroit, MI is pictured in August 2018. The Ford Motor Company purchased the building in May 2018 for redevelopment.
ABC News

The vacant building, shuttered officially in 1988, was purchased by the Ford Motor Company in May for redevelopment, a sign of the continued change and progress the city has seen since Gov. Snyder appointed an emergency manager to oversee the city's finances in 2013.

Slows Bar BQ, which has operated in the Corktown neighborhood since 2005, is one of the many businesses that has experience the ups and downs of Detroit's economy in recent years.

Terry Perrone, the managing director of Slows, told ABC News that while Detroit's economic comeback is a welcome sight for businesses in the city, there is still a desire among residents to maintain the same character that has always defined the Motor City.

PHOTO: Slows Bar BQ in Detroit.
Slows Bar BQ in Detroit.
John Verhovek/ABC News

"I love this city, and so do the people in this neighborhood that call it home," Perrone told ABC News, but added that one of the main challenges is dealing with Detroit's still outdated infrastructure.

"We've lost power three times this summer alone," Perrone said.

The challenge of balancing the new and the old is a struggle seen in cities across the Midwest, and Detroit's continuing economic transition demonstrates that it is no exception.

From Detroit to Lansing, congressional races loom large

Aside from the governor's race, competitive congressional primaries in a number of races that could factor into control of the U.S. House also got their candidates for November Tuesday night, while the results in some key races have not yet been projected.

In Michigan's 11th Congressional District, nestled in the suburbs northwest of Detroit, the retirement of GOP Congressman Dave Trott has sparked crowded primaries on both sides of the aisle.

Leading on the Democratic side are Haley Stevens, the former Chief of Staff to the Obama administration's bailout of the auto industry and healthcare start-up co-founder Suneel Gupta, the brother of CNN medical reporter Sanjay Gupta.

On the GOP side, Lena Epstein, who chaired Donald Trump's 2016 campaign in the state, also holds a lead over three current and former state legislators in her bid to succeed Trott.

In the 8th Congressional District, which spans from the state capitol of Lansing to the exurbs of Detroit, GOP Rep. Mike Bishop faces a tough re-election bid against Elissa Slotkin, a former Obama Defense Department official, who won the Democratic primary on Tuesday.

In the city of Detroit and the immediate suburbs, successors to two political legends will be elected this year.

PHOTO: Bernie 2020 t-shirt from a rally, Aug. 5, 2018, in Ypsilanti, Mich.
Bernie 2020 t-shirt from a rally, Aug. 5, 2018, in Ypsilanti, Mich.
John Verhovek/ABC News

The resignation last year of longtime Rep. John Conyers over allegations of sexual misconduct has sparked a crowded race to replace him in a deep blue inner-city Detroit district. Former state Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who would be the first Muslim woman if elected, Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones and Bill Wild, the mayor of the suburban town of Westland, are the top three Democrats in contention to represent Michigan's 13th Congressional District.

Election returns Tuesday evening showed Tlaib leading, but the Associated Press has not made a projection in the race.

Rep. Sander Levin, who has held a Detroit area congressional seat since 1983, is also retiring this cycle, and his successor in the state's 9th congressional district will either be his son, Andy Levin, or the EMILY's List backed former State Rep. Ellen Lipton. Initial returns show the younger Levin with a lead over Lipton, but the Associated Press has not made a projection as of early Wednesday morning.

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