Democrats win in Michigan county that pitched GOP stars

Kent County, Michigan, home to the city of Grand Rapids and former President Gerald Ford, has a Dutch heritage that nurtured elite Republican figures for decades. Former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos also has ties to the county, which gave George W. Bush 59% of their vote to Al Gore’s 38% in 2000.

The area’s current MP, grocery chain heir, Representative Peter Meijer, fits the traditional county mold. However, Meijer was one of 10 Republican members of Congress to vote to impeach former President Donald Trump in the House, putting him on the former president’s list of enemies. He is now being challenged by Trump-endorsed nominee John Gibbs, a former conservative political commentator who served as housing chief during the Trump administration.

The county’s status as a Republican stronghold has eroded in part due to demographic shifts. Between the 2010 and 2020 censuses, the county saw a 10% increase in its Hispanic population and a decrease in its non-Hispanic white population. A nationwide trend of college-educated voters favoring Democrats and newly redesigned congressional districts also helped the county’s Democratic Party.

The result is that the county swung between the two parties in the recent national election. The county had not chosen a Democrat since 1964, when it chose former President Barack Obama in 2008 by just 1,500 votes. In 2012, Kent County voters rejected Obama in favor of Republican Mitt Romney before backing Trump in 2016 by a narrow 3-point margin over Hillary Clinton.

But since 2018, Democrats have also won a few victories in the county: Democrat Gretchen Whitmer was the county’s choice for governor in 2018. In 2020, President Joe Biden won 52% of the vote compared to 46% for Trump.

If Meijer wins the primary despite Trump’s endorsement of his opponent, he will face a rematch against Democrat Hillary Scholten, whom he beat by just 3 points in 2020. Still, Democrats are energized by new maps, which were drawn by an independent citizen. government-led redistricting commission and are seen as more competitive, although they still slightly favor Republicans.

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Local Republicans believe economic issues such as soaring gas prices will help give the party an edge. Michigan and other states have debated measures such as suspending the state gas tax, but Whitmer instead pleaded with Congress for a federal break. This, coupled with Biden’s low approval rating, may be a drag on Democrats.

—Taylor Wooten

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