DETROIT (AP) – Michigan voters chose to stick with experience by re-electing incumbent U.S. Sen. Carl Levin to a fifth straight term last night. Levin secured more than 60 percent of the vote and extended his Senate tenure to 30 years, while sweeping past Republican challenger Andrew Raczkowski.

Levin, a Democrat from Detroit, was considered a heavy favorite by political pundits and the 62-to-37 percent margin recorded at 1:47 a.m. by which he defeated Raczkowski, a state representative from Farmington Hills, was the largest margin among Levin’s five victories.

“Thank you for the vote of confidence,” Levin told supporters after proclaiming victory at the Democratic Party’s victory party in the Detroit Renaissance Center. “This is as close as you can come in politics to winning a Stanley Cup for the fifth time in a row.”

Looking ahead to his fifth term, Levin pledged to find a way to get the nation’s economy back on track and said “a priority within a priority” is extending unemployment benefits.

“The economy is number one,” he said. “Part of that though is that we have to help out all of the unemployed who have exhausted their benefits.”

Other issues Levin said he will work on are creating a prescription drug benefit program, strengthening public schools and protecting the environment.

Despite last night’s defeat, Raczkowski told supporters to remain optimistic about their government after he conceded to Levin. Maintaining an upbeat attitude, Raczkowski said people must put aside party differences in an effort to produce changes. “Now we’ve got to get behind (Levin) and make sure he listens to the issues we raised in this campaign,” Raczkowski said. He also commended Levin for running advertisements that reflected many of his key campaign issues.

“Talking to Sen. Levin, I think one way or another, we’ll be working closely together in the next six years,” Raczkowski said. Refusing to fully accept defeat, Raczkowski used the “Rocky” movie series as an analogy for his situation. “If I’m not mistaken, he lost in that movie. But remember what came next,” he told a crowd of supporters. “It’s not over. … We have the right issues.”

While he acknowledged that he encountered obstacles on the campaign trail, he said he tried to make the best of the situation. At times even friends tried to deter him from running, but Raczkowski’s childhood upbringing and his parents’ experiences as immigrants helped in upholding his dedication to the campaign. “I’ve learned a lot from my parents who have gone through a lot of adversity,” Raczkowski said. “They taught me to go on, to be persistent, to be determined.”

Now that he will not spending the next six years in the Senate, Raczkowski is making alternative plans. “This loss allows for rebuilding time,” Raczkowski said. “We’ll go step by step.” Still, he added he will dedicate time to rebuilding Detroit and other floundering Michigan communities. The two candidates ran relatively low-key campaigns, although for different reasons. Raczkowski could not afford to run a television ad after Republicans decided to provide him with no funding. Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, concentrated much of his time on drafting resolutions on military action in Iraq and had only limited time to campaign.

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