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
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.