Lena Epstein is a businesswoman and the former co-chair of the Trump campaign in Michigan now running as a Republican for a open U.S. House seat representing the state’s 11th District.
Calling herself “a conservative outsider,” Epstein, age 36, originally planned to run for Senate as a challenger to incumbent Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow. But she switched races after musician Kid Rock jumped into the Senate contest and incumbent Republican Rep. David Trott dropped out of the House race.
Epstein won her hotly competitive Republican primary on August 7. But while her path to Congress may be easier through an open House race in a district that Trump won, she still faces a tough fight against the Democrats, who also see opportunity. Yet, Epstein will be a formidable candidate; whe was the top fundraiser in the entire primary race, having amassed $1.6 million, including $990,100 in personal loans to her campaign, as of July 18. She has been endorsed by VIEW PAC, a female-led group that raises money for Republican women candidates.
The 11th District race became a pitched battle after Trott announced his withdrawal following a firestorm caused by one of his aides, who was caught on a “hot mic” calling angry constituents at a town hall “un-American.” Trott’s exit made the previously Republican-leaning district more competitive and led to a rush of both Republican and Democratic candidates. Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball have now rated the election a “toss up,” although Inside Elections rates it “lean Republican.”
This congressional race is Epstein’s second big venture into politics — the first being her role as co-chair in President Donald Trump’s successful campaign in Michigan. She came out in support of Trump in October 2016 and became a fixture on local television and radio during the presidential campaign, which undoubtedly helped her build name recognition. During a GOP candidate forum in January, Epstein declared Trump “the best president in American history,” according to a local report.
Epstein’s opponents in the Republican primary included Kerry Bentivolio, who formerly held the district’s seat in Congress; Kristine Bonds, the daughter of the late news anchor Bill Bonds; and three former state representatives, Kurt Heise, Andrew “Rocky” Raczkowski and Klint Kesto.
Now Epstein will face the winner of the Democratic primary, Haley Stevens, a former Obama administration official, in November’s general election. (The Story Exchange is also following Stevens campaign.) The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee named Michigan’s 11th District one of its initial targets to flip in 2018, which suggests large amounts of money will pour into the race, on both sides.
Epstein’s campaign has faced its own controversy. In August, Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon, among others, circulated screenshots showing Epstein’s Twitter account to have “liked” posts by former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke that praised a white-nationalist, anti-Semitic rally in Charlottesville, Va., dubbed Unite the Right. Epstein, who is Jewish, said her account had been hacked, expressed outrage and demanded an apology from Dillon and her other critics. Dillon refused to apologize, suggesting he believed Epstein’s hacking claim was false.
Epstein is a prominent businesswoman who in 2003 became the third-generation co-owner of Vesco Oil Corp., one of the country’s largest distributors of automotive and industrial lubricants. Vesco is certified women-owned business with more than 200 employees and $175 million in annual revenue. In a New Years message to supporters, she promised to “work with President Trump and help return southeast Michigan to the hub of economic opportunity it once was.”
In 2012, Epstein was appointed to the Michigan Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board by Governor Rick Snyder. She also serves on the boards of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, Detroit Historical Society and Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan. She has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Harvard University and an MBA from the University of Michigan. Epstein and her husband Eric recently welcomed their first child, Emma Jules, with whom she was pregnant when she announced her run for the House.
The Latest on the Campaign
November 7, 2018:
A surge of women candidates this year resulted in record numbers of women securing political office. We saw it all — wins, losses and unclear outcomes — in our Running Women project. Read the full story.
Lena Epstein lost her race to represent an open Michigan seat representing an auto industry stronghold outside Detroit that had been held by a Republican and won by Trump in 2016. Her rival Haley Stevens was among a parade of Democratic women who helped the party regain majority control of the House.
October 23, 2018:
Epstein Sparks Controversy Within Jewish Community
In a sign of the tense divisions in the country, Lena Epstein became the center of a social media firestorm on Monday when she invited a Messianic Jewish rabbi to pray for the victims lost in Saturday’s shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Vice President Mike Pence joined Epstein and Loren Jacobs, the founder of Congregation Shema Yisrael, a religious organization describing itself as a “Messianic synagogue,” at a campaign event on Monday in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Many people in the Jewish community were outraged at the decision to invite Jacobs to the event because of his ties to the group, Jews for Jesus, and because many of them consider the Messianic Judaism to be faux Judaism. Some believed it was the work of Pence, a religious Christian, though his staff said he had not invited Jacobs.
“For the record, Messianic ‘Judaism’ is a branch of Christianity and offensive to the Jewish community. Lena Epstein knew this and so did Pence and his team. This wasn’t ecumenical; it was an insulting political stunt,” Rabbi Jason Miller, founder and director of a kosher certification agency in Michigan, tweeted on Tuesday.
Epstein, who is Jewish, responded forcefully to the criticism. “Any media or political competitor who is attacking me or the Vice President is guilty of nothing short of religious intolerance and should be ashamed,” she tweeted.
Epstein said she invited Jacobs to pray at event and urged people “to come together as one and reject hate and religious divisions.” She concluded, “I am proud of my faith and look forward to serving as the only Jewish Republican woman in Congress.”
October 23, 2018:
Stevens Gains Notable Allies in Race Against Epstein: Republican Women
By Jenna Miller
A remarkable alliance formed over the weekend between the Republican Women for Progress PAC and Democrat Haley Stevens, when the committee made a powerful $50,000 play to help her beat a Republican woman opponent.
The group has a history of backing Democrats, including Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race, so it is not unusual for them to support candidates like Stevens, who is running for Congress in Michigan. But in this case, they are supporting Stevens over fellow Republican Lena Epstein, a businesswoman and avid Trump supporter. Their support could help Stevens win over a crucial group of swing voters: suburban women.
The political action committee is run by a group of “modern, forward-thinking” Republican women who “believe that Republican women deserve to speak up, not stand aside,” according to its mission statement. It has raised $1 million from various donors so far and is spending $50,000 of it on digital ads to help Stevens target the crucial group of voters.
Stevens is currently projected to get 50.4 percent of the vote to Epstein’s 45.5 percent and has a 7 in 9 chance of winning the election, according to the forecast model produced by FiveThirtyEight. The district leans Republican by 6.4 percentage points, according to the data-focused news site. Nationally, the site estimates Democrats have a 6 in 7 chance to take over majority control of the House.
October 9, 2018:
Lena Epstein Falls Behind Haley Stevens, New York Times Poll Show
By Jenna Miller
Republican Lena Epstein is trailing behind Democratic opponent Haley Stevens by 8 percentage points in the race to represent Michigan’s 11th Congressional District, according to a live poll being conducted by the New York Times and Siena College.
The poll is still underway, so the numbers will continue to change with every phone interview the pollsters complete. But as of now, Stevens has the support of 45 percent of voters to Epstein’s 38 percent. About 17 percent are undecided. Pollsters had called 66,770 likely voters and spoken to 465 as of October 6. Because the sample size is still small, the margin of error is currently 5 points. This margin of error will continue to decrease as the the sample size grows and more people in this district are contacted.
The Times said that answers to several other questions it asked Michigan 11 voters suggest they are leaning toward picking a Democratic candidate, which would be Stevens. Half of voters said they wanted Democrats to take control of the House, compared to 41 percent who said they want the Republicans to retain control. Additionally, 52 percent of voters said they disapprove of President Donald Trump, compared to 42 percent who approve of him.
Epstein is a proud Trump supporter and was co-chair of his campaign in Michigan, a tight connection that may not help her as Election Day nears. But being a woman running for this seat may well help Epstein; 73 percent of voters surveyed by The Times and Siena agreed with the statement that it is important to elect more women into office. Then of course, with a woman running on the Democratic side as well, this district is destined to elect a woman into Congress.
September 5, 2018:
Crain’s Detroit Business Names Epstein and Stevens to 40 Under 40 List
By Jenna Miller
Crain’s Detroit Business annual list features 40 businessmen and women who are under the age of 40. This year, it effectively named 41 individuals because it listed Epstein and Stevens together.
Both women are in their 30s and originally from Oakland County. And Crain’s highlighted the fact that both have played notable roles in Michigan’s all-important automotive industry — and both experienced the government bailout of the industry following the 2008 financial crisis.
For all that they have in common, Epstein and Stevens are from opposing political worlds. Stevens, after working on Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, became chief of staff to Steve Rattner, an American financier who led an Obama administration task force that in 2009 orchestrated the financial rescues of GM and Chrysler.
Epstein is an ally of President Donald Trump and co-owns her family business, Vesco Oil Corp., a vendor in the industry’s vast supply chain. She credits “many tremendous leaders” in the business community for saving the state’s auto industry, she told the publication, not the Democratic president.
August 31, 2018:
Stevens Has Edge Over Epstein, FiveThirtyEight Says
Democrat Haley Stevens has a 2 in 3 chance of defeating GOP rival Lena Epstein for Michigan District 11’s seat in Congress in November, according to prominent statistics-driven website FiveThirtyEight.
A win for Stevens in the election to decide who will succeed retiring Republican Rep. Dave Trott would flip the seat to the Democrats and potentially tip control of the U.S. House. It is expected to be very hard fought.
FiveThirtyEight forecasts Stevens will win 49.8 percent of the vote to Epstein’s 46.5 percent, based on a model that weights district polls in available (none were in this case), polls of similar districts, “fundamental” factors like fundraising and historical trends, and experts’ ratings.
August 8, 2018:
Women are winning primaries in record-breaking numbers nationwide. So too in Michigan, where women’s victories will result in a near female monopoly on the Democratic side of the November ballot for key offices. In the 11th Congressional District, two women candidates we’ve been watching will face off in the general election, Haley Stevens for the Democrats and Lena Epstein for the Republicans. Read the full story.
July 17, 2018:
In Michigan’s 11th Congressional District, Fayrouz Saad is focusing more on #MeToo than rivals Haley Stevens and Lena Epstein and speaking out about sexual harassment. Read the full story.
July 3, 2018:
The Michigan congressional candidate joined a growing list of conservative politicians who have been shunned for supporting President Donald Trump’s policies, when her own country club cancelled a planned fundraising event. The businesswoman called for more civility and respect for women with differing political views. Read the full story by Carly LeMoine.
June 13, 2018:
Lena Epstein Talks “Tough” on Immigration
A co-chairman of President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, Lena Epstein has long been an outspoken supporter of his “America First” slogan. And this week, Epstein doubled down, releasing a new advertisement specifically showcasing her support for his immigration policies.
Toughness has been a theme for Epstein throughout her campaign. A year ago, Epstein released a video titled “Tough Talk. Tough Action,” which faulted illegal immigration for lowering wages and taking away Michigan jobs. She denounced “sanctuary cities” and called for action to force them to uphold the rule of law.
In her latest video, Epstein reinforces these ideas. She highlights the need for stronger national security at the border and for an end to illegal immigration. And she promises that as a representative of Michigan in Congress, she will fight to “build the wall, deport the criminals, and put America first.”
February 15, 2018:
Running Women Q&A: ‘Conservative Outsider’ Lena Epstein Wants More Female Leaders in the GOP
We spoke with the Michigan congressional candidate about what she learned co-chairing President Donald Trump’s campaign in Michigan, the need for business voices in Congress and why the GOP needs more women leaders. Read the interview highlights.