Why a Michigan Democratic political dynasty just fell
“Nobody was excited about this competition,” he says. “These two members worked together. Everyone in Oakland County would have preferred to have both members in Congress. But it was like in the movie “Highlander”: “There can only be one”.
The race had drawn domestic money in part because of Levin’s nuanced views on Israel — he supports the Jewish state but sometimes antagonizes its US lobby, sponsoring a bill in 2021 restricting the country’s ability using US foreign aid in the West Bank, and regularly speaking up for Palestinian rights. And much of the coverage of the race has followed predictable lines — that the millions of dollars the American Israel Public Affairs Committee spent on Stevens’ behalf were decisive, or that it was some sort of showdown at the Bernie vs. Hillary. (Camp Levin certainly sees it that way: In a statement to POLITICO, spokeswoman Jenny Byer said “the outcome of this run…was clearly driven by the 5-to-1 disparity in outside spending and bleak leaving voters inundated with mail and advertisements in favor of our adversary.”)
But the extent of what happened in the race is both more complex and simpler.
Oakland County, Michigan is ground zero in a shift that is reshaping suburban politics across the country as formerly wealthy Republican strongholds shift from red to purple to blue. The race illustrates the shifting nature of the Democratic coalition nationally, but also how important and difficult it is to predict local dynamics, even as politics nationalizes.
Rather than a nationwide ideological fight, this was a race where the two candidates agreed on almost every point.
“I don’t think it’s a massive rejection of Andy or what he stands for,” says Woodward, who backed Stevens last week.
Organized labor was split between the two campaigns: Many locals supported Stevens, while Levin, who spent decades as a labor organizer, received the bulk of union support, including many national organizations. and state organizations among the most important (SEIU, CWA, AFT Michigan, etc. .). Abortion-rights groups were divided; Planned Parenthood Action Fund even took the strange step of double endorsing both nominees. Oakland County leaders were also torn: Levin and Stevens are extremely popular among party activists and elected officials.
Instead, the race turned on a few key points: new district lines that gave Stevens a substantial advantage, the Levin camp’s misinterpretation of the new suburban Democratic electorate, a decades-long trend in the preference of the Oakland Democrats to elect women and the Supreme The court’s decision in Dobbs – which, by eliminating the guaranteed right to abortion, has supercharged this gender dynamic.
The Stevens–Levin collision was originally fixed by a card.
Following the 2020 census, Michigan lost a seat in Congress and, for the first time, the task of drawing new district maps was given to a nonpartisan commission – which was prohibited from considering the location of the holders. The three final proposed maps drafted by the commission were named after trees: Apple, Birch, and Chestnut.
Democratic members of Michigan’s congressional delegation were nearly unanimous in preferring the Birch map – which, among its benefits, could have avoided a Stevens-Levin primary by creating a likely Democratic seat incorporating the southeast Oakland base of Levin and a large swath of Macomb County — and discussed publicly endorsing the map and urging the commission to adopt it, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the conversations.
But there was one notable obstacle: Rep. Brenda Lawrence, the former mayor of Southfield, whose district encompasses parts of southern Oakland County and about half of Detroit, and the only black member of the Michigan delegation. According to people with first-hand knowledge, Lawrence disliked the way Birch’s map cut off mostly black Southfield from Detroit and instead lumped it together with the westernmost rural parts of Oakland.
“Brenda’s biggest problem [with the Birch map] has always been Southfield: ‘You don’t give a damn about black voters,'” according to one participant in those conversations, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly. “While that’s a valid criticism, a lot of people saw through the veneer of that – if it was a more competitive district, it would be a tougher election for her.”
Lawrence preferred to keep Southfield clustered in a predominantly black neighborhood rooted in Detroit, like in the Chestnut map. Accordingly, the delegation did not support any of the options considered by the redistricting commission.
It’s not clear that approving any of the cards would have made a difference – “The idea that the Democratic delegation could dictate to the impartial commission what to do is reckless,” a senior party official told me – but the end result of the process was the passage of the Chestnut Plan, which consolidated the bulk of the Levin and Stevens seats, adding parts of the district of Lawrence while keeping Southfield in a majority black neighborhood with the West Side of Detroit.
Lawrence got the card she preferred – then chose not to seek re-election. (The MP’s office did not respond to a request for comment for this article.)
Another irony blossomed on Tuesday night: the chestnut card resulted in a general election field where neither The Detroit-based seat is expected to elect a black member of Congress in 2023. Rep. Rashida Tlaib swapped districts to run for the new seat of Southfield-Detroit-Dearborn, opening the Democratic nomination for the 13th district, which was won by Indian American businessman and state representative Shri Thanedar. (Indeed, it’s entirely possible Michigan’s only black member in the next Congress will be a Republican representing a new district in the heavily white suburb of Macomb: John James.)
Levin and Stevens elected to run in Oakland County’s new, safe Democratic 11th District, a new seat that was carved from three existing seats: Stevens’, Levin’s, and Lawrence’s. But it wasn’t an even fight: just over 40 percent of Stevens’ old ward was in the new 11th, compared to about a quarter of Levin’s old ward. The rest were taken from Lawrence’s seat.
Stevens had an advantage early on. And early on, when Lawrence chose to back her over Levin, it gave Stevens a tremendous boost among black voters in the new 11th — voters who overwhelmingly backed Stevens on Tuesday. (She beat Levin in every riding in the Pontiac, the largest concentration of black voters in the new seat.)
“Once the dice were thrown with the lines, there would never have been a good outcome,” says Amy Chapman, who led Michigan for Barack Obama in 2008, lives in the district and has personally supported Levin.
“You have a generational dynamic, you have a gender dynamic, and then it’s a math problem,” says Woodward. “I understand that it’s incredibly sexy to focus on all these national resources and play what AIPAC [role] has been. But I think the fundamentals of this race have not changed.
The afternoon of On Tuesday, December 28, the decoupage commission adopted the Châtaignier map. Within two hours, Levin and Stevens announced they would report to the 11th arrondissement. The primary battle was underway.
In mid-January, David Victor, the former president of AIPAC, wrote to Jewish donors in the district in support of Stevens. The primary, he wrote, “presents a rare opportunity to defeat arguably the most corrosive member of Congress for U.S.-Israel relations.”
It was an odd way of referring to Levin, who is not just an observant Jew, but a former president of his synagogue and the scion of the most successful Jewish political family in Michigan history. But these facts are precisely why some of Israel’s most aggressive supporters in American politics have been so outraged by, for example, his undying friendship with Tlaib and his empathetic defenses of Ilhan Omar’s statements repeating anti-Semitic tropes. on Israel. (“We everything have a lot to learn,” Levin said.) Coupled with Levin’s stance on Israel, he had a target on his back. “AIPAC does not support the idea that I am the loudest Jewish voice in Congress advocating… human rights for the Palestinian people,” he told MSNBC’s Mehdi Hassan last week.)