BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — Former U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R–Mich.) reclaimed his seat in Congress last night by defeating incumbent U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer (D–Mich.) in Michigan’s seventh congressional district as Republicans nationwide made sweeping gains in the Senate and took control of the House of Representatives.
With all 329 precincts in the district reporting as of 4 a.m., Walberg won with 50 percent of the votes to Schauer’s 45 percent in a race that had been in an almost statistical dead-heat in the weeks leading up to the election.
Walberg reclaimed his seat in Congress after Schauer beat him by a three-point margin in 2008 to represent the south-central Michigan congressional district — which includes portions of Washtenaw County.
At his watch party at the McCamly Hotel here, Schauer told his staff and supporters that they “almost pulled off a miracle” as Republicans throughout Michigan and the country made massive gains in what many chalked up as an indictment of the Obama administration and the Democrats, who have controlled both houses of Congress since 2007.
“It’s going to be a tough, close loss,” Schauer said before all the votes had been counted. “But think of what you did in the face of a national tidal wave.”
Walberg won the Washtenaw County portion of the district with 49 percent of the vote, while Schauer claimed 47 percent.
During his watch party at Daryl’s Downtown Restaurant in Jackson, Mich., Walberg spoke early this morning after the election results were announced to thank his supporters.
“(I’m) excited with the fact that the people of the seventh district turned around from the last vote two years ago and decided they wanted to with me again,” Walberg said.
Walberg added that he and Schauer had a “hard-fought campaign.”
“We ran two different campaigns,” Walberg said. “I ran it on policy and record. He felt he had to run it on perception. I was proud of my record, and he couldn’t run on his record because it wasn’t selling anywhere in the United States as we’ve seen tonight.”
Compared to the 2008 election, Walberg said the Republicans were able to put up a good fight this year.
“The last election was very clear, the Democratic wave that went through. In fact, (it was) more than a wave, it was a tsunami,” Walberg said.
In an interview last night, Communication Studies Prof. Michael Traugott said Walberg’s victory was consistent with the GOP’s big night across the state, in which Republican Rick Snyder won the gubernatorial contest in a landslide, and a larger nationwide victory for Republicans.
“It’s a big Republican night nationally,” Traugott said. “There’s a little Republican wave that’s benefiting all candidates, but it’s also been a big Republican night in the state of Michigan, starting at the top of the ticket.”
Traugott explained, “There are some coattails and national swing involved in this.”
Walberg’s victory mirrored races across the country as the Republicans captured 238 seats to reclaim the House of Representatives, which Democrats had controlled since 2006.
And while the GOP remains the minority in the Senate, the Republican Party made large gains there too, netting 6 seats.
Traugott said these Republican gains in the House and Senate were the result of the Obama administration’s and congressional Democrats’ inability to improve the country’s economy at a fast enough pace.
“(Voters were) concerned that the Obama administration has not been able to push recovery in a faster way and not been able to get people back to work,” Traugott said.
Traugott added that the next two years are likely to be full of “gridlock” in Washington as the Republicans try to prevent Obama from pursuing his agenda.
“Sen. Mitch McConnell (R–Ky) has made it clear in the Senate that (the Republicans) don’t want to assist the Obama administration in any way and they want to make him a one-term president,” Traugott said.
Traugott continued, “It’ll be a little more difficult for the House Republicans when they take over control because they have a whole new responsibility for budgetary matters. (But), they’re not going to cooperate with the President either.”
The atmosphere was somber here in light of the large Republican gains. Schauer’s staff and supporters could be seen fighting back tears as he addressed the 100 or so people assembled at the watch party.
Schauer said he called Walberg about five minutes before taking the podium and congratulated him on a hard-fought win, urging him to continue to represent the people of the seventh congressional district.
“To the best damn group of volunteers, supporters and friends that I’ve ever known: thank you. Your compassion for others is inspiring to me,” Schauer said. “Everyday when I walked into one of our campaign offices and saw you working hard, making the extra phone calls, that inspired me. You deserved victory, but we will fight another day.”
Schauer told the crowd that the highlight of his short, two-year tenure in the House was voting to pass landmark health care reform earlier this year.
“If that vote cost me my job, I’d sleep like a baby every night,” Schauer said of the polarizing legislation.
— Daily staff reporter Lillian Xiao contributed reporting from Jackson, Mich.