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Stevens, Levin trade shots over abortion at Michigan congressional debate

U.S. Reps. Haley Stevens and Andy Levin, both Democrats, are competing against each other in a redrawn southeast Michigan congressional district. Michigan lost a seat in Congress because of stagnant population. (Bridge photo by Lauren Gibbons)

Two incumbent Democrats vying for a newly drawn southeast Michigan congressional district sparred on issues from gun control and abortion to health care and campaign finance during a debate Tuesday that occasionally got testy.

During a wide-ranging forum at Oakland University in Rochester Hills — located on the edge of the new neighboring 10th and 11th districts — U.S. Reps. Haley Stevens, D-Waterford, and Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township, sought to differentiate their records as they traded barbs as they both seek a third term in Congress.

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The winner of the August primary will advance to the general election in the 11th District, which stretches across much of southeastern Oakland County and leans Democratic.

Hours after a deadly Texas school shooting, both candidates stressed the need to take meaningful action on gun violence, with Stevens calling on the White House to declare a national emergency. 

Both said they would support ending the Senate filibuster, which they said has contributed to the stalemate in Congress on getting Democratic priorities like gun control and abortion access to President Joe Biden. 

Throughout the debate, Levin portrayed himself as more progressive, criticizing Stevens for moderate positions on health care, climate legislation and her unwillingness to express explicit support for expanding the Supreme Court beyond its nine members.

Levin said he supports expanding the court and suggested other possible overhauls, including the possibility of term limits for justices so the high court “can stop stomping over our rights.” 

Stevens said she would review any proposals put forward to “reimagine functional institutions” that command the public’s trust, but said it’s important to stand firm on “the real issue at hand, which is making sure that Roe (v. Wade) doesn’t get overturned.” 

During a tense exchange, Stevens bristled at Levin’s characterization of their records on supporting abortion access after he suggested he’d been more active in the fight. 

“Was that the sound of another 60-something-year-old white man telling me how to talk about choice?” she asked the crowd. “I think my position is clear.”

Levin responded, “I don’t think I said a word about how my colleague should talk about choice.”

The candidates also diverged on health care policy, with Levin backing a single-payer health plan and Stevens supporting a public option that still allows for private insurance. 

Michigan is losing a seat in Congress next year because of stagnant population. 

Both candidates opted to pass on running in the neighboring 10th district, which contains southern Macomb County communities that Levin now represents including Warren, Sterling Heights, Eastpointe and St. Clair Shores, but extends north into Macomb County and loops in the Oakland County cities of Rochester and Rochester Hills.

Stevens moved within the boundaries of the new 11th District, and Levin opted not to move into a different district, setting up the incumbent vs. incumbent primary. 

Levin and Stevens each defended their decision to run against each other, expressing their support for the independent redistricting process while stressing that they were the best choice to represent the district.

Stevens has thus far out-raised Levin, reporting $1.1 million in the latest campaign finance reports to Levin’s $767,268.

An Impact Research poll released Tuesday by Stevens’ campaign showed Stevens with a 7 point lead, with 38 percent of respondents supporting her, 31 percent supporting Levin and 31 undecided. 

Following the debate, Stevens said she gets the sense that voters are “heartbroken” they have to choose between two sitting Democrats with track records in Congress.

Levin said the circumstances are unfortunate, but noted he’s “just running for reelection where I live and where my kids are the fifth generation of my family to live.”

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