KALAMAZOO — Standing on a makeshift stage inside Bell’s Brewery in downtown Kalamazoo, Matt Longjohn excitedly addressed his crowd of supporters as his victory in Tuesday’s primary was showcased on a large projector screen.
The 46-year-old Democrat referred to his party nomination as the beginning of the “Blue Wave” movement in Michigan, as he now prepares to face incumbent Fred Upton in November’s general election.
“Too many people are working too hard and not being able to make ends meet. This is about putting people first,” Longjohn said Tuesday night. “… This is just the end of the beginning. We have so much more to do. On to Nov. 6.”
Upton, R-St. Joseph, won his party’s nomination Tuesday with no opposition. Seeking a 17th consecutive term, Upton witnessed a rejuvenated opposition this year with an influx of Democratic candidates.
Longjohn, who waited until 11:15 p.m. to declare victory Tuesday, received nearly 38 percent of the votes – finishing with a total of 35,385 votes. In addition, Longjohn secured the most votes in each county within the district.
George Franklin, a Glenn resident, finished Tuesday with the second most votes from his party by claiming 25,108 votes. That was enough for more than 26 percent of Democratic voters.
Franklin released a statement following his primary defeat Tuesday, where he thanked his supporters and conceded the race to Longjohn.
“I would like to congratulate Matt Longjohn on his victory tonight. There is no doubt Michigan’s 6th District is ready for change,” Franklin wrote. “We need a health care system that works for everyone, and no one should go without clean water. I support Matt Longjohn in his effort to become the next congressman of the 6th congressional district.”
David Benac and Rich Eichholz rounded out the bottom half of the Democratic ticket.
Benac, a history professor at Western Michigan University, received 21,097 votes Tuesday, which accounted for 22 percent of the votes. Eichholz, a retired scientist who lives in New Buffalo, collected 12,283 votes – about 13 percent of Democratic votes.
The four-way primary battle marked the first time since 1984 that more than one Democrat has sought the Southwest Michigan seat. That was two years before Upton was first elected to Congress.
The winner’s circle
The district that Longjohn and Upton will focus on this fall includes Berrien, Cass, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph and Van Buren counties – along with the majority of Allegan County.
Longjohn said he hopes to improve the health and quality of life for everyone in Southwest Michigan and across the U.S.
The Portage resident said his national career with the YMCA and his ability to influence Medicare policy makes him the best option for the country’s most urgent of needs.
Longjohn’s decision to run came from his visit to the nation’s capital last year. When he was trying to figure out how to volunteer, Longjohn said he was encouraged to run during his visit to the Democratic Party’s office. As a newcomer to politics, Longjohn said he wants to emphasize not just health care, but public health.
Upton, who was re-elected in 2016 with 59 percent of the vote, released a statement on the amount of attention his district’s race is now getting.
The congressman said he looks forward to public forums, debates and “connecting directly with voters to discuss what’s important to them.”
“Our campaign reflects the common-sense, bipartisan work we’ve done and will continue to do. From improving health care, boosting our economy, preserving our Great Lakes, and more. That’s what our campaign will be focused on: the issues,” Upton’s statement said. “We must continue all working together to make Southwest Michigan a great place to live, work and raise a family. We look forward to a tough, clean campaign contrasting our visions for the future.”