It was shortly after 8 p.m. that Jeff Irwin saw early results in his State Senate Democratic primary race on Tuesday evening. He was pleased to see his name at the top, concerned that the race was extremely close and surprised that the turnout of voters was even larger than expected – much larger.
“We started seeing some results right after 8 p.m.,” he said.
When was he comfortable that he had won the State Senate 18 Democratic Primary?
“About 4:45 a.m.,” he said, when the final precinct was added to the grand total and all 116 precincts were accounted for and in the books.
Irwin received 19,872 votes to garner 35.59 percent of the votes to win the State Senate 18 Democratic Primary on Tuesday. Michelle Deatrick, a Washtenaw County commissioner, totaled 19,633 votes and 35.16 percent of the vote to finish a close second. Anuja Rajendra collected 14,673 votes for 26.28 percent.
“Superior Township was the last one to get their results in,” Irwin said. “Around midnight every other precinct was in so we were just waiting on Superior. I think I was ahead by 363 votes at that time which isn’t a lot. When you look at the number of potential voters and absentee voters in Superior it seemed impossible that the margin I had would be overcome. But you never know. I was confident but still a little concerned until I saw the final numbers counted.”
Irwin said he didn’t pay any attention to an early predictions or exit polls. His focus was on what he could control.
“I really wasn’t focused on that type of analysis. I was just trying to meet as many voters as possible,” he said. “I was out there knocking on doors, sending e-mails, talking on the phone. I was doing everything I could to get my message out there. I was running my own race not worrying about the other candidates. I think that’s the best way to approach it.”
And considering how close the race was, Irwin was sure glad he put in the extra effort to knock on every door and meet as many people as he could.
“We had a really good team,” he said. “We had some excellent volunteers. There is a lot of work that is put into a campaign like this.”
Then there was the large turnout.
“The one thing that was challenging about this race is how many new voters were out there,” he said. “We expected a large turnout and it was predicted with everything going on and the governor race that it would be a large turnout. It turned out to be a higher turnout than anyone expected and I looked at it as those were voters we didn’t get a chance to talk to or target through the mail.”
Irwin said that when they started seeing the incredibly high turnout numbers he did get a little concerned because he felt like many of these voters hadn’t heard his message.
“These voters were coming out because they are getting involved in politics and they are frustrated about what’s going on in Washington,” he said. “It didn’t necessarily mean they were engaged in this state senate primary. I thought the best path to victory for me was to explain to voters my ideas and my experience and what kind of results I’ve gotten in public service. And when we started seeing the really large turnout numbers I felt like there were a lot of voters we weren’t able to get our message too and that was a little concerning.”
Irwin will face Republican Martin Church of Ypsilanti in November. It’s been a long time since a Republican has held this seat, currently held by Democrat Rebekah Warren, who is being term-limited.
“That will be a different kind of race,” Irwin said. “A lot of resources went into this primary and for November I will focus on putting my ideas and values ahead of the voters and let them decide. I also will be out there helping other Democrats in races across the state. We need to get more Democrats in the Senate to help get some of those ideas and values I believe in pushed through.”
Irwin said during his campaign that his experience is the best defense voters in Washtenaw County’s 18th District have against cuts to public services, and he says he’ll call on that experience if elected to the State Senate.
“I’ve learned a lot in 17 years of public service,” said Irwin, one of a handful of candidates running for the 18th District seat. “I know how to fight when cuts are proposed. I’ve been to the schools. I’ve been to the group homes, I’ve talked to the people who live there. Experience counts.”
Irwin was a Washtenaw County Commissioner from 1999-2010 and a State Representative in the 53rd District for six years before being term-limited in 2016.