KALAMAZOO, MI — Matt Longjohn is the Democratic Party’s choice to face U.S. Rep. Fred Upton for Michigan’s 6th Congressional District in November.
Longjohn earned 22,077 votes, followed by George Franklin, 17,222, David Benac, 12,681, and Rich Eichholz, 7,596, according to unofficial results.
The mood was celebratory at his campaign watch party in Bell’s Eccentric Cafe in downtown Kalamazoo, but Longjohn acknowledged that the campaign is just getting started — he plans to go “toe-to-toe” with Upton until election day on Nov. 6.
“This is just the end of the beginning,” he said. “We have so much more work to do.”
Longjohn will likely have his work cut out for him in the November general election. Upton, 65, is something of an institution in Southwest Michigan; he’s represented Southwest Michigan’s Congressional District since 1986 and is seeking a 17th term in the House of Representatives.
Upton sailed to reelection in 2016 by earning 58.6 percent of the vote, his strongest victory since 2010. In his entire career as a Congressman, Upton on average won with 63.5 percent of the vote.
“Mr. Upton is a formidable foe,” Longjohn said Tuesday. “It will take a lot of hard work, a lot of support, and it’s going to take some luck, but I look forward to the campaign ahead.”
The Republican acknowledged the attention on his district in an election night statement. Upton said he is looking forward to public forums and debates to come.
“We must continue all working together to make Southwest Michigan a great place to live, work, and raise a family,” Upton said in the statement. “We look forward to a tough, clean campaign contrasting our visions for the future.”
The 6th District covers the counties of Kalamazoo, Van Buren, Cass, St. Joseph, Berrien, and most of Allegan County.
Longjohn, 46, is a former national health officer for the YMCA who gave up his job to run for Congress. Longjon he entered the race to provide a strong contrast to Upton and used his expertise as a public health official to show he was most qualified to improve health care.
“Too many people are working too hard and not being able to meet ends meet,” he said. “This is about putting people first.”
Two hours after polls closed on Aug. 7, things were looking good for Longjohn. He won Kalamazoo, Van Buren and St. Joseph counties by 10 p.m. Half an hour later, Longjohn congratulated his opponents but wasn’t ready to declare victory just yet.
The Franklin campaign wasn’t ready to give up either. A spokesperson said the campaign expected a big boost from absentee ballots.
By 11 p.m., Longjohn had 16,415 votes to Franklin’s 11,086. By 11:30 p.m., Franklin called the front-runner to concede defeat and released a statement soon afterward.
Franklin said he will support Longjohn in the general election. He also thanked voters, his staff and his wife, Molly, for supporting him during the race.
“I have enjoyed this experience thoroughly and am a better person for having met so many outstanding people throughout Southwest Michigan,” Franklin said in the statement. “There is no doubt Michigan’s 6th District is ready for change … We need a healthcare system that works for everyone, and no one should go without clean water.”
“I think they have each run races that we can all applaud,” Longjohn said. “I greatly admire what they have done.”
All four primary candidates are first-time politicians who never sought public office before. It was the first Democratic primary in 20 years and by far the most expensive race the 6th District has ever experienced.
Combined, the four Democratic candidates raised about $1.7 million before the primary, an unprecedented amount for the 6th District. But that’s still less than Upton’s $2.2 million raised so far this cycle.
Franklin raised the most on the Democratic side, reporting raising $762,899 this cycle, followed by Longjohn, who raised $672,095.
Longjohn said he is running a campaign that is divorced from “dark money” interests. He committed to not accepting any corporate political action committee funds.
Upton spent $1.05 million before the primary despite not facing a Republican challenger in August.
Eichholz raised $191,852, while Benac raised $76,912.
Eichholz, 70, is a biologist and co-founder of renewable energy company Qmulus LLC. His message at community forums was a focus on strengthening the economy through an infrastructure jobs program and clean energy business.
Tuesday, Eichholz said he is looking forward to focusing on his business but will also support Lonjohn’s campaign against Upton. He was encouraged by the high turnout and expects the momentum generated by four Democratic candidates will carry through into the general election.
Franklin, 66, is president of Franklin Public Affairs and a former lobbyist for Kellogg. He campaigned on protecting Social Security and Medicare, creating universal health care and a stronger EPA.
Franklin carried the support of establishment Michigan Democrats, including heavyweights like former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin and former Gov. Jennifer Granholm. He gained support from Upton’s predecessor Bob Carr and former 7th District Congressman Mark Schauer.
Franklin also pulled in endorsements from Democrats in other states like Tennessee Congressman Jim Cooper and former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley.
Despite his popularity among prominent political figures, Kalamazoo progressives targeted Franklin when demeaning descriptions of women from his 2014 memoir resurfaced on social media.
Franklin spent most of his professional career at Kellogg before establishing a government relations firm in 2005. He also served on WMU’s Board of Trustees for more than a decade.
Three Democrats who ran but did not appear on the ballot endorsed Longjohn after ending their campaign. Longjohn was also supported by Portage Mayor Patricia Randall.
Campaign ads touted President Barack Obama’s recognition of Longjohn as one of the “top healthcare innovators in America,” one of several statements about his experience that Franklin supporters criticized for perceived inaccuracy.
Paul Clements was the Democratic nominee in 2016 and 2014 but failed to obtain enough valid signatures to be on the August ballot. After failing to reverse the decision in federal court, Clements endorsed Longjohn.
Two other candidates supported Longjohn before the primary. Eponine Garrod was disqualified and Aida Gray withdrew from the race.
Benac, 44, is a Western Michigan University history professor and representative of the American Association of University Professors. He ran as a progressive grassroots organizer focused on fighting big-money interests in Washington.
Benac received endorsements from several grassroots and progressive organizations, including the Michigan Democratic Party progressive and cannabis caucuses, Michigan for Single Payer Healthcare and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, among others.
He received endorsements from a coalition of other Democratic candidates for Congress across the country and local politicians like Don Cooney, a Kalamazoo City Commissioner who ran twice unsuccessfully against Upton.
Benac was supported by the Justice Democrats, a progressive political action committee focused on replacing establishment Democrats with candidates more aligned with working class values. It was founded in January 2017 by left-leaning commentators and former leadership from the 2016 Bernie Sanders presidential campaign.
The group also supported gubernatorial candidate Abdul El-Sayed.