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Mich. re-elects Obama, Stabenow; downs proposals

Associated Press Modified: November 7, 2012 at 7:30 am •  Published: November 7, 2012
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DETROIT (AP) — Michigan voters helped President Barack Obama earn a second term and launched Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow to re-election, but rejected two labor-backed ballot proposals aimed at protecting union rights and maintained Republicans' majority in the state's U.S. House delegation.

The victories by Stabenow and Obama were among the first to become clear as Michigan results poured in, and neither was a surprise. Obama had a reservoir of good will in the state after championing federal assistance for General Motors and Chrysler, and Stabenow billed herself as a moderate bipartisan focused on Michigan jobs.

"We have a similar message that you need to make and grow things in our economy," Stabenow, who easily defeated former Republican Rep. Pete Hoekstra, told The Associated Press. "And, that's what we do in Michigan."

All proposals on Michigan's ballot, including five that would have altered the state constitution, failed to pass muster with voters.

"I disagree with arbitrarily changing the constitution," said Dave Keem, 60, a computer service manager from the Detroit suburb of Dearborn.

One of the measures would have guaranteed collective bargaining rights for public and private employees in the constitution, and another would have given permission for home health care workers to form unions. But labor was able to celebrate the rejection of a proposal that would have kept the state's emergency managers law in place — the law gave state-appointed financial mangers broad rights that included negating union contracts in financially distressed cities and school districts.

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.

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.

"Obama had a lot to deal with when he came into office," said William Mullins, 62, of Lansing. "You can't change everything overnight."

Republicans, meanwhile, held 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.

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 — though the emergency mangers defeat delivered a blow to Gov. Rick Snyder, who wasn't even on the ballot.

Snyder had championed the law and argued the state must be able help Michigan's struggling areas. He had appointed managers in five cities and three school districts since signing the law last year.

Critics argued it was a state power grab that usurped local elected officials' rights.

"I respect the voters. We'll just move forward," Snyder told WWJ-AM on Wednesday morning. "The bigger part of the vote, in my view, was the constitutional proposals."

The other three ballot initiatives to fail included a measure that called for changing the constitution to require a referendum on any plan for a new bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.

That 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.

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Associated Press writers Jeff Karoub, Ed White, David Aguilar, Mike Householder, Corey Williams, John Flesher and Larry Lage contributed to this report.