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.
Though her path to Congress may be easier through an open House race in a district that Trump won, she faces a crowded Republican field. Meanwhile, the Democrats see opportunity and their primary has become just as competitive. However, Epstein is the top fundraiser in the entire race, having amassed $1.34 million, including $930,100 in personal loans to her campaign, as of Dec. 31, suggesting she is in a strong position. 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. Epstein’s opponents in the Republican primary on August 7 include 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.
At GOP debate on Jan. 8, Bentivolio narrowly won a straw vote with 54 votes, compared to 51 for Raczkowski and 45 for Epstein. During the candidate forum, Epstein declared Trump “the best president in American history,” according to a local report.
The victor will face the winner of the Democratic primary in November’s general election. The Democratic candidates are Haley Stevens, Fayrouz Saad, Dan Haberman, Suneel Gupta and State Rep. Tim Greimel. (The Story Exchange is following Stevens and Saad’s campaigns as well.) 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
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.