DETROIT (AP) — President Barack Obama carried Michigan on his way to winning re-election Tuesday, capitalizing on a reservoir of good will in this Democratic-leaning state after he championed the federal rescue of General Motors and Chrysler.
Obama benefited from strong ties to organized labor and heavy support from black voters in Detroit and other population centers, winning Michigan's 16 electoral votes after he also took the state in 2008. No Republican presidential nominee has won Michigan since 1988.
"I went with Obama," said James Fleming, 51, of Dearborn, a diesel engine assembler who has been a member of the United Auto Workers union for more than 20 years. "I think he's done a good job so far — but he still has a lot to do."
Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow also was re-elected, defeating former Republican Rep. Pete Hoekstra to win a third term. But Republicans were able to hold on to a U.S. House seat that had appeared vulnerable after five-term GOP Rep. Thaddeus McCotter failed to qualify for the primary ballot and resigned amid an investigation into his staff's submission of bogus petition signatures.
Tea party-backed reindeer rancher Kerry Bentivolio defeated Democrat Syed Taj in the 11th District, overcoming claims of extremism even by some in his own party.
Obama was favored in Michigan after supporting the aid to GM and Chrysler, which were on the brink of bankruptcy when he took office in 2009. Republican challenger Mitt Romney was a vocal opponent of rescuing the car companies.
William Mullins, 62, of Lansing, said he was raised Republican but voted for Obama because "he comes across as an honest man."
"Obama had a lot to deal with when he came into office," Mullins said. "You can't change everything overnight."
The economy was the biggest issue for Michigan voters and they put their trust in Obama to continue nursing a fragile recovery, according to results of an exit poll conducted for The Associated Press and television networks. A slight majority said he was better able than Romney to handle the economy, and an even bigger majority said the president was more in touch with people like them.
About three in five voters approved of the Obama administration's aid to the U.S. auto industry, and they overwhelmingly backed the president.
Pre-election polls had shown Stabenow with double-digit leads, and the exit poll showed she not only won easily among liberals and moderates, but also carried a majority of independents and got votes from one in 10 Republicans.
"I know she tries to do good," said Kimber Lawrence, 51, who voted for Stabenow in Lansing while also supporting Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Stabenow ran television ads portraying herself as a bipartisan champion of Michigan industries, particularly manufacturing and agriculture. As chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, she won a rare endorsement from the Michigan Farm Bureau.
The victories by Stabenow and Obama were among the first to become clear as Michigan results poured in.
"We have a similar message that you need to make and grow things in our economy," Stabenow told The Associated Press. "And, that's what we do in Michigan."
In another key U.S. House race, Republican Rep. Justin Amash won a second term representing the Grand Rapids area, fending off a tougher-than-expected challenge from Democrat Steve Pestka. But the 1st District rematch between freshman Republican Rep. Dan Benishek and Democratic challenger Gary McDowell remained too close to call early Wednesday.
Democratic Rep. Gary Peters won another term, defeating Republican John Hauler in a redrawn southeast Michigan district. Peters was the first white candidate supported by The Black Slate, a Detroit activist coalition, and will fill a traditionally black seat in Congress.
It also was a winning night for two of the longest-serving congressmen in U.S. history. Democratic Rep. John Conyers won his 25th term in Congress, while Democrat John Dingell won a 29th. Dingell, the longest currently serving House member, has been in Congress since 1955.
While the presidential and congressional races led Michigan's packed ballot, tens of millions of campaign dollars also were spent on six ballot proposals that had nothing to do with candidates — but at least one delivered a blow to Gov. Rick Snyder.
Voters defeated a proposal that would have kept the state's sweeping emergency mangers law on the books. The had allowed state-appointed managers to dismiss local elected leaders and negate union contracts in municipalities and school districts deemed to be in fiscal emergencies.
Snyder championed the law and argued the state must be able help Michigan's struggling areas. He has appointed managers in five cities and three school districts since signing the law last year.
Critics argued the law was a state power grab that usurped local elected officials' rights.
Attorney Michelle Harrell, 46, said she typically votes Republican but opposed this particular priority of the GOP governor.
"They take the power too far," Harrell said of emergency managers. "To suddenly say, 'I'm going to stop paying you,' is undemocratic."
Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville has said he and fellow Republicans have a proposal for a law to replace the one shot down by voters, but haven't released details because it's under legal review.
But the news wasn't all good for labor in Michigan. A measure that would have guaranteed collective bargaining rights for public and private employees in the state constitution and another that would have given permission for home health care workers to form unions also failed.
Voters also rejected an initiative that called for changing the constitution to require a referendum on any plan for a new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. The campaign was backed by billionaire Manuel "Matty" Moroun, owner of the private Ambassador Bridge in Detroit, in response to a competing bridge proposed this year by Michigan and Ontario.
"I don't have a problem amending the constitution if it's for the betterment of all the people. But Matty Moroun's monopoly has got to end," said Frank Yoakam, 38, a general contractor in Grosse Pointe Woods.
Also failing were a measure to order utilities to produce 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025, and a measure to make tax increases contingent on a two-thirds legislative vote of approval.
Associated Press writers Jeff Karoub, Ed White, David Aguilar, Mike Householder, Corey Williams, John Flesher and Larry Lage contributed to this report.