Two Primaries In The 6th Congressional District

Jul 29, 2020

2011 file photo of the U.S. Capitol dome
Credit J. Scott Applewhite / AP Photo

There are Republican and Democratic primaries Tuesday in Michigan's Sixth Congressional District, which includes Kalamazoo.


The Republican Race

On the GOP side, veteran 34-year Congressman Fred Upton of Saint Joseph faces Berrien County realtor Elena Oelke. Western Michigan University political science professor John Clark says Oelke faces an uphill fight. Oelke has positioned herself as a conservative alternative to Upton, who she says hasn't supported President Donald Trump. Clark says he thinks Oelke has had a hard time getting that message out to potential primary voters during COVID-19 pandemic.

"That's always going to be tough, particularly when you're running against an incumbent, when you can't get out and hold rallies, shake hans, and go door-to-door in the same way that candidates typically do."

There is a huge disparity between Oelke and Upton in campaign funding in Upton's favor.

Western Michigan University political science professor Peter Weilhouwer says he thinks Oelke will have a hard time selling herself as the "Trumpier" alternative to conservatives unhappy with Upton. Weilhouwer says Upton isn't like Republican Utah Senator Mitt Romney, who has frequently criticized Trump.

"He's known as somebody who's not particularly right-wing. He's not known particularly in the pocket of Trump. On the other hand, he's just like an old school, long-term Republican."

The Democratic Race

Democrats have their own primary race in the Sixth District. Both candidates are from Kalamazoo. State Representative Jon Hoadley is wrapping up his last term in the State House. He faces Jen Richardson, who's a science teacher and director of research at the Kalamazoo Area Math and Science Center.

Clark and Weilhouwer say Hoadley has advantages that Richardson does not. Clark says they include Hoadley's three terms in the House.

"He has a reputation as somebody who is personally quite liberal, but I think people look at him as somebody who is willing to work with almost anybody."

Hoadley has also raised more than $1 million, far more than Richardson. And while money isn't the only factor in political success, Weilhouwer says it is very important. He says both Democrats need to reach voters outside the Kalamazoo area, something that takes money.

"There's just an inherent advantage to being able to do those things, to purchase those vehicles for communication when the face-to-face, grassroots politics that are so central to elections, especially in state legislative and congressional races - you just can't to it the way you have the last 150 years."

The winners of the August 4 primaries will face each other in the General Election in November.