The mother of Detroit’s mayor narrowly survived a primary election that focused on her scandal-plagued son as much as her own six terms in Congress.
Democratic Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick overcame a city hall sex scandal involving the mayor and a former top aide to defeat two underfunded challengers Tuesday who questioned whether she had lost touch with the district.
“I will be your congresswoman … until I decide to retire,” Kilpatrick told cheering supporters early Wednesday. “I am honored, blessed and will continue to serve you to the very best of my abilities.”
The mayor did not attend the gathering.
Voters also went to the polls Tuesday in Missouri to pick nominees for governor, and in Kansas and Georgia to decide House and Senate races.
In Michigan, the primary victory was agonizingly close for someone who rarely faced a challenge. Kilpatrick trailed in early returns from suburban communities outside Detroit, but rebounded in the city, her political base.
With all precincts reporting, Kilpatrick received 39.1 percent of the vote, compared with former state Rep. Mary Waters’ 36 percent. State Sen. Martha Scott had 24.9 percent.
The numbers offered evidence of the deep divide among voters, many of whom wanted to turn the primary into a referendum on Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s conduct.
The 38-year-old mayor and his former top aide are charged with perjury, misconduct and obstruction of justice — all connected to their testimony in a civil trial last year in which they denied having a romantic relationship.
But those claims have been contradicted by text messages in a scandal that has dominated news coverage in Detroit for months.
During the campaign, Waters repeatedly referred to the felony charges against the mayor and criticized the congresswoman for defending him. She argued that Kilpatrick had become unresponsive to the district and promised to be more accessible to constituents.
Scott downplayed the scandal, arguing that focusing on the mayor’s troubles would do little to help the district, where many people have struggled with high unemployment and poverty.
Kilpatrick campaigned on her record in Congress, where she serves on the House Appropriations Committee and leads the Congressional Black Caucus.
She benefited from facing two challengers who split the vote among those who have grown weary of the mayor. She also had about $500,000 in her campaign account in the middle of July and the support of labor unions, a major advantage in a race with low turnout. Waters raised only about $10,000 and Scott had not yet filed a campaign report.
Despite the narrow victory, Kilpatrick will be heavily favored in the November general election against Republican Edward Gubics because the district is heavily Democratic.
In Missouri, Rep. Kenny Hulshof defeated state Treasurer Sarah Steelman for the GOP nomination for governor, taking 49 percent of the vote to her 45 percent.
Hulshof and Attorney General Jay Nixon, who easily won the Democratic nomination with about 85 percent of the vote over a little-known challenger, will square off in November for the chance to succeed Gov. Matt Blunt, who decided not to seek a second term.
Hulshof, who had the backing Missouri’s most powerful business groups and of virtually every top Republican state official other than Blunt, who remained neutral, racked up large victory margins in his 9th Congressional District, carrying as much as 90 percent of the vote in some of those rural northeast Missouri counties.
In Kansas, former Republican Rep. Jim Ryun failed in his bid to reclaim the 2nd Congressional District seat he lost two years ago after serving five terms.
State Treasurer Lynn Jenkins beat Ryun, a former Olympian who held the world record in the mile for eight years, 51 percent to 49 percent.
Jenkins will face Democratic incumbent Nancy Boyda, who beat Ryun in 2006, in the November general election.
In suburban Kansas City, anti-abortion prosecutor Phill Kline lost a primary challenge in his bid for a full, four-year term as district attorney of the state’s most populous county.
Kline drew national attention with his investigations of abortion clinics when he was Kansas attorney general. He lost his 2006 re-election bid to an abortion rights supporter, but Republicans picked him to fill a vacancy in the Johnson County prosecutor’s job.
Challenger Steve Howe, a former assistant district attorney, received 60 percent of the vote in his race against Kline. He will face Democrat Rick Guinn, another former assistant district attorney who now works in the attorney general’s office, in the fall.
In Georgia, former state lawmaker Jim Martin defeated Vernon Jones, chief executive of DeKalb County, to claim the Democratic nomination for the Senate.
With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Martin led Jones by 60 percent to 40 percent.
The runoff win means Martin will face Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss in November.