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Republicans flip Democratic seats, keep majority in Michigan House

Lee Chatfield

LANSING —  Republicans are poised to return a majority to the Michigan House next term after offsetting potential losses by flipping two Democratic seats.

Losses by incumbent Reps. Brian Elder of Bay City and Sheryl Kennedy of Davison killed Democrats’ quest to seize control of the lower chamber for the first time since 2010. GOP candidates held enough other seats to retain at least a 57-53 majority. 

It’s a tough blow for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who hit the campaign trail last month for Elder, Kennedy and other Democratic candidates in an attempt to break the GOP’s decade-long grip on the Michigan Legislature. 

Instead, Republicans will retain control of both the House and Senate for the remainder of Whitmer’s first of two possible terms, limiting her ability to advance an agenda that has been largely stymied by partisan fights and COVID-19.

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“The people of Michigan have spoken loud and clear – they want two more years of House Republican leadership at their state Capitol,” House Speaker Lee Chatfield of Levering said in a statement. 

“House Republicans have the best plan of action to lead our state forward, and we have a proven track record of turning those plans into tangible results over the past ten years.”

Chatfield could not seek re-election this year after serving a maximum three years in the House. Rep. Jason Wentworth, R-Clare, is expected to succeed him as House Speaker. 

Democrats needed to flip four districts, but through Wednesday morning had only managed two, and those gains were neutralized by the Elder and Kennedy losses. 

Elder carried the 96th District by 13 percentage points in 2018, but the Thumb region continued shifting toward the GOP this cycle with Trump at the top of the ticket. Those dynamics benefited Republican challenger Timmy Beson, a Bangor Township school board member who led Elder by 6,175 votes in unofficial results.  

Kennedy won her Genesee County seat by more than 9 points in 2018 but lost to Republican challenger David Martin on Tuesday by less than 1 point, or 490 votes, according to unofficial results. 

Those losses are surprising but not shocking, said Adrian Hemond, a Democratic strategist with the bipartisan Grassroots Midwest consulting firm in Lansing. He noted Trump carried Kennedy’s district in 2016 and expanded his margins in Bay County, where Hemond had predicted a narrow Elder win despite favorable GOP dynamics. 

“The areas of the state and the country that support the new Republican brand support it a lot, and the ones that don’t, they don’t,” he said Wednesday. 

Democrats flipped a seat in the 61st House District, where Christine Morse of Kalamazoo defeated Republican Bronwyn Haltom to replace term-limited GOP Rep. Brandt Iden.  

And in Oakland County, Democratic Novi Councilwoman Kelly Breen beat Republican Chase Turner to replace term-limited GOP Rep. Kathy Crawford.

Elsewhere in Oakland County, Republican Rep. Ryan Berman of Commerce Township held off a challenge from Democrat Julia Pulver in the 39th District. 

That race appeared to close the door on the Democratic push to reclaim a majority or manage a 55-55 split, but term-limited House Minority Leader Christine Greig of Farmington Hills stopped short of conceding the battle.

“Only election administrators can officially determine the winners after the ballots are counted accurately,” Greig said in a Wednesday morning statement. “Michiganders made an extraordinary effort to vote and deserve to have each and every one of their ballots counted.”

Lavora Barnes, chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, noted that Michigan voters in 2018 approved creation of a panel that will draw new political districts for 2022, a task that had previously been controlled by the Legislature. 

“This is Republicans’ last shot at a gerrymandered legislative map,” Barnes complained on Twitter. “In two years, Michigan will get fair legislative districts drawn by the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission.”

Democratic hopes were dashed in Grand Traverse County, where Republican John Roth appeared to beat repeat Democratic candidate Dan O’Neil by 2,303 votes to hold a 104th District seat now held by term-limited GOP Rep. Larry Inman.

Republican Rep. Steven Johnson, R-Wayland, also held off Democratic challenger Lily Cheng-Schulting to win re-election in the 72nd District despite a liberal shift in Kentwood, an inner ring suburb of Grand Rapids. 

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