ST. JOSEPH — U.S. Rep. Fred Upton pulled ahead early Tuesday night as the incumbent claimed a big victory in the Republican primary.

Upton, R-St. Joseph, received more votes in every county in the 6th Congressional District over his opponent, Benton Harbor resident Elena Oelke.

Shortly before midnight, Upton was ahead 60.4 percent to Oelke’s 39.6 percent.

“I remain absolutely committed to working with anyone of any party to solve problems and put Southwest Michigan first,” Upton said in a written statement. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve heard folks’ frustrations, fear and pain. People are lying awake at night worried about making ends meet and sending their children to school safely. We’ll keep working hand-in-hand with our heroic health care workers to get them critical medical supplies. We’ll continue helping small businesses, workers and our schools.”

Upton, first elected in 1986, is seeking his 18th consecutive term. The seat is a two-year term.

The 67-year-old said he has unfinished business with Cures 2.0, fighting the opioid epidemic, immigration reform and protecting the Great Lakes. He said health care is at the forefront of everyone’s minds with the COVID-19 pandemic limiting everyday life.

“Lots of folks talk about being a problem solver, especially at election time,” Upton said in a statement. “But I don’t just talk the talk; I walk the walk. We have a bipartisan track record working on 21st Century Cures, universal broadband for our families, and, most importantly, jobs and economic security.”

Upton has continually promised to represent all constituents and to try to reach across the aisle when practical. As a vice chairman of the Problem Solvers Caucus, Upton said he’s been a part of changing rules in the U.S. House in the spirit of bipartisanship.

Upton announced his intentions for re-election much later in the election cycle than in previous years, leaving supporters and challengers to wonder whether he would seek another term. His decision was not made public until late February.

Oelke, 49, grew up in the Soviet Union, a region now in the area of Ukraine. She ran on the platform of term limits and the Second Amendment, and was known for her career in real estate.

Prior to this congressional race, Oelke had never held or run for public office.

Upton will face the top vote-getter from the Democratic primary between Jon Hoadley and Jen Richardson, which at press time was too close to call Tuesday night.

The 6th District includes Berrien, Cass, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph and Van Buren counties and most of Allegan County.

Contact: twittkowski@TheHP.com, 932-0358, Twitter: @TonyWittkowski