The Gongwer Blog

August 14, 2022 Through August 20, 2022

In Legislative Primaries, Non-Endorsed Candidates Notched Upsets

By Zachary Gorchow
Executive Editor and Publisher
Posted: August 14, 2022 11:17 PM

Candidates for the Michigan House and Senate who won most or all of the endorsements from the PACs tied to the trade associations, political groups and unions that typically get involved in primaries won the bulk of their races August 2, but there were several exceptions and a not insignificant number of upsets.

Gongwer News Service analyzed the results of the primary elections against the endorsements from key PACs as well as campaign spending as of July 17.

In the Senate, of the nine primary races where there was significant competition and endorsements lined up mostly or entirely in favor of one candidate, the candidate with the endorsements won in six cases.

In the House, of the 52 primary races where there was significant competition and endorsements and lined up mostly or entirely in favor of one candidate, the candidate with the endorsements won in 38 of them.

There were another two competitive primaries in the Senate and 23 in the House where there either were few to no endorsements or the endorsement were split relatively evenly.

The three examples in the Senate all had notable factors that lessen their standings as upsets.

  • Organized labor stayed out of the 6th Senate District Democratic primary won by Rep. Mary Cavanagh of Redford Township over Farmington Hills Mayor Vicki Barnett, but Ms. Barnett did have Planned Parenthood and the Michigan Association for Justice on her side. Ms. Cavanagh had some business group endorsements that don't usually carry major weight in a Democratic primary but helped her keep spending even.
  • Washtenaw County Commissioner Sue Shink had few organizational endorsements, particularly from organized labor, compared to Kelsey Wood of Jackson in their 14th Senate District Democratic primary, but won going away anyway. Ms. Shink had two advantages: She was from the Washtenaw part of the district, where the population is, and she vastly outspent Ms. Wood.
  • Jonathan Lindsey of Coldwater had the endorsements of former President Donald Trump and Patriot Approved in his successful bid to oust Sen. Kim LaSata (R-Niles), who had virtually every other major key endorsement for a Republican primary. The big difference for Mr. Lindsey was he outspent Ms. LaSata and was able to run a robust campaign.

It was in the House where there were some upsets that ranged from mildly surprising to jaw-dropping.

There were several instances of candidates with few to no endorsements who got vastly outspent and still won:

  • Harper Woods City Councilmember Veronica Paiz had nowhere near the endorsement list of Ricardo White of Detroit, who also decisively outspent the eight-candidate Democratic field in the 11th House District, but she still won.
  • Perhaps the upset of the night was Kimberly Edwards of Eastpointe toppling Rep. Richard Steenland of Roseville in the Democratic primary for the 12th House District. Mr. Steenland had all the endorsements. Ms. Edwards spent less than $1,000 on her race but Mr. Steenland, while he spent almost $10,000, mystifyingly left almost $40,000 in the bank.
  • Virtually all the organizations that play in Republican primaries endorsed Kevin Counts of Grosse Ile in the 27th House District GOP primary, but Robert Howey of Trenton, the party's 2016 nominee for a similar district, won the nomination. He narrowly outspent Mr. Counts.
  • Organized labor and the Michigan Association for Justice lined up with James Johnson Jr. of Clarklake in the 47th House District, but Carrie Rheingans of Ann Arbor won the Democratic primary in a landslide even though she was outspent. Was this that big an upset though considering the Washtenaw-heavy nature of this district?
  • The United Auto Workers and the Michigan Association for Justice backed Neil Oza of Rochester Hills in the Democratic primary for the 55th House District, and he decisively outspent Patricia Bernard of Rochester Hills too, but Ms. Bernard won. She did have the backing of Planned Parenthood Advocates. She will face Rep. Mark Tisdel (R-Rochester Hills) for a key race in November.
  • In the 62nd House District Republican primary, most organizations endorsed Joe Marino of Harrison Township but Alicia St. Germaine of Harrison Township came away with the nomination.
  • The result of the Democratic primary in the 77th House District might have been the one that most shocked the Capitol community as Emily Dievendorf of Lansing defeated Jon Horford of Lansing. Mr. Horford had all the endorsements in a district where endorsements usually hold more weight than the typical seat. He vastly outspent her. Ms. Dievendorf, recovering from a traffic crash, was not able to begin campaigning in earnest until very late. But it appears Mr. Horford may have gotten outworked anyway.
  • Endorsements from traditional players in Republican primaries in the 78th House District went either to Christine Barnes of Mulliken or Ben Geiger of Nashville. Ms. Barnes also led the field in spending. But it was Gina Johnsen of Odessa Township who won the race. She had the endorsement of the Patriot Approved group.
  • The word was out in July that Angela Rigas of Caledonia was on her way to victory in the 79th District Republican primary even as traditional Republican groups were backing Jeremiah Keeler. Ms. Rigas had the endorsement of President Donald Trump and Patriot Approved.
  • Maybe the one race that truly left Republicans surprised was in the 92nd House District where Jerry Neyer of Shepherd won the nomination. While he had the endorsement of the Michigan Farm Bureau, other groups went with Todd Schorle or Erin Zimmer of Mount Pleasant, who both vastly outspent Mr. Neyer.
  • This was not an upset in the sense that everyone expected Matthew Bierlein of Vassar to win the 97th House District Republican nomination over Rep. Rodney Wakeman of Frankenmuth but nonetheless Mr. Wakeman had almost all the endorsements and widely outspent Mr. Bierlein, who did have the endorsement of the Michigan Farm Bureau.
  • This was one of the bigger surprises in the 101st House District Republican primary where the focus was on Diane Schindlbeck and Kelly Smith, both of White Cloud. Endorsements from traditional groups split between the two of them. But it was Joseph Fox of Fremont who won the nomination. His only major endorsement was the Patriot Approved group, and he was vastly outspent.
  • One of the races known to be close going into August 2 was the 107th House District Republican primary race between Parker Fairbairn of Harbor Springs and Neil Friske of Charlevoix. So, Mr. Friske winning wasn't necessarily a surprise or an upset. But he won with virtually all Republican organizations, other than Patriot Approved, siding with Mr. Fairbairn, who also as of July 17 had outspent him.
  • It was a low-spending, low-profile Republican primary in the 109th House District but sweeping endorsements was not enough for Ron Gray of Gwinn, who lost to two-time nominee Melody Wagner.

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