Dem primary that ousted a left-leaning incumbent in favor of a centrist was far more complicated than that binary suggests

From the start, the Michigan Democratic Primary contest that pitted two congressional incumbents — Reps. Haley Stevens and Andy Levin — against one another because of redistricting was going to be painful. Levin is a liberal stalwart, Stevens a centrist moderate.

So the two overriding themes that mainstream media latched onto were:

  1. The battle of Democratic left-wing vs. the Democratic centrists. According to Politico, “the race brought national Democrats to the state. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) stumped for Levin, while Stevens had the support of abortion rights group EMILY’s List and Hillary Clinton.”
  2. A battle between a staunch no-compromises supporter of Israel (Stevens) and a Jewish congressman who supports Israel, but has not been afraid of speaking up for the Palestinians (Levin).

That is pretty much how I saw it. But Politico has a very good piece up about how those national issues certainly played a part, but it was way more complicated than that.

Especially when the race got ugly:

[The conservative American Israel Political Action Committee-AIPAC] invested massive sums of outside money to oust Levin — its super PAC reportedly spent at least $4.2 million in the race. But its attacks on Levin seem to have resonated less with the Oakland Democrats I spoke with than the ads his defenders at a more progressive Jewish political group, the J Street Action Fund, ran in response. They attacked Stevens for having AIPAC’s support and suggested that she was siding with Jan. 6 insurrectionists and Republican House members who tried to overturn the 2020 election.

In reality, Stevens supported the impeachment of Donald Trump over his actions on Jan. 6. She has never flirted with election denialism. And the suggestion from Levin’s allies that she had done so backfired, escalating frustration among Michigan Democrats over the aggressiveness of Levin’s campaign message, according to multiple party insiders, and prompting at least one senior leader in the local party to personally tell him to tone it down.

“It’s not helpful [to the party], and frankly, it doesn’t really register,” one Democratic insider and elected official told me ahead of election day. “All it does is just put a target on the back of a lot of Democrats.”

“Framing her as an insurrectionist? Come on,” says an aide to another member of Congress, describing the private reaction among the Michigan delegation. “That was a step too far.”

It prompted Woodward himself to endorse Stevens — an unusual step, considering his friendship with both candidates and the fact that the primary election was only five days away. “The attempt to link her to insurrectionists just went too far for me — and far enough for me to put my own reputation on the line,” he says.

Same with Mari Manoogian, a second-term state representative who flipped a Republican state House seat in Oakland’s wealthy Birmingham area in 2018. She considers both Levin and Stevens friends and stayed out of the race until its closing days, when the attacks on Stevens by Levin allies drove her to endorse the congresswoman. “I couldn’t take the negativity anymore,” she says.

Politico also points out that many voters preferred to vote for a younger woman than an older man whose family is a political dynasty in the state. Note also that African-Americans in the district overwhelmingly backed Stevens.

It’s all very inside politics and, if you enjoy such things, an interesting read at this link.

Reps. Haley Stevens and Andy Levin.

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