PONTIAC, Mich. — Rep. Haley Stevens defeated Rep. Andy Levin in the Michigan Democratic primary that had become a referendum on the internal American-Jewish conversation on Israel, how the Democratic Party handles debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the spending power of pro-Israel SuperPACs aimed at swaying elections.
"My friends, it's not a mystery why we beat the odds. We stayed in Congress because we listened. I listened," Stevens said in a victory speech.
With nearly all the vote counted, Stevens has over 70,000 votes to Levin’s nearly 46,700 – a 60/40 percent split.
The two faced off in the 11th district, where AIPAC's United Democracy Project SuperPAC has spent $4.2 million in hopes of defeating progressive Jewish candidate Levin, while J Street has spent $700,000 against Stevens over AIPAC's support.
On the recent success, J Street said that AIPAC “With their overwhelming spending, hopes to send an intimidating message to others: Cross our red lines, and you could be next.”
"This political battle was bigger than just the candidates on the ballot. It was an opportunity to defeat a detractor of the U.S.-Israel relationship and to strengthen support for Israel – both within the Democratic Party and in Congress overall," AIPAC President Betsy Berns Korn said.
The contentious race has become a de facto proxy war over the candidates' positions on Israel — to the lament of Levin's Jewish supporters and key local political power players such as Rep. Debbie Dingell.
Despite AIPAC's overwhelming spending, key Stevens supporters stressed that she is the right person for the job due to her record and positions on issues local voters care about. Levin's supporters, meanwhile, highlighted his status as a champion for progressive causes.
During his concession speech Levin alluded to efforts made to defeat him, saying: "Unfortunately, I was the target of a largely Republican-funded campaign set on defeating the movement I represent no matter where I ran."
While local voters did not place Israel among key issues, it was catapulted to the forefront of the race after Levin's positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict attracted significant opposition from the pro-Israel establishment, consolidating support behind the non-Jewish Stevens and positioning Levin's faith at the center of its attacks.
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Levin centered his attacks on Stevens around AIPAC's backing — particularly since its federal PAC endorsed 109 Republican lawmakers who voted against certifying the election and that its SuperPAC receives significant donations from Republican megadonors.
"The choice in this race was clear: Congresswoman Stevens is a solid, consistent champion of the U.S.-Israel relationship while her opponent is not. The pro-Israel community united behind Congresswoman Stevens while her opponent embraced support from the most persistent and hostile critics of Israel," AIPAC said in a statement.
AIPAC's United Democracy Project, however, faced less successful results in Michigan's 13th district, where it spent over $4.1 million in hopes of elevating state senator Adam Hollier over state Rep. Shri Thanedar.
Thanedar narrowly defeated Hollier, a 36-year-old army veteran who told Haaretz he was as surprised as anyone that AIPAC's SuperPAC was bolstering his campaign – largely in hopes of keeping the entrepreneur out of office due to past positions critical of Israel.
UDP's record is now 7-2.
"I gave this race everything I had, and we all worked hard for the causes we believe in – all gas and no brakes since launching our campaign in January. Today it really hurts but now we must come together and make sure Democrats win up and down the ballot in November," Hollier said.
AIPAC, meanwhile, hadn't spent on Rep. Rashida Tlaib's primary, yet her campaign had similarly been targeted by SuperPACs bankrolled by pro-Israel Republican donors. She is projected to defeat her challenger Janice Winfrey soundly.
AIPAC's foray into SuperPACs has proven wildly successful, winning seven of the races it has involved itself in Michigan, North Carolina, Texas, Ohio, California and Maryland and only losing one race in Pennsylvania. It has spent a total of $26.3 million — exclusively on Democratic primaries — with $10.5 million funding attack ads.