---- — JACKSON (AP) — The National Republican Congressional Committee is spending big bucks to win back control of Congress, and nowhere is it spending more than in Michigan's 7th District.
The GOP House fundraising arm has poured $1.45 million into the race since mid-September, "more than any other race in the country," according to NRCC spokesman Tom Erickson.
Much of that money has been spent on a deluge of mailers and television ads promoting Republican Tim Walberg and blasting Democratic incumbent Mark Schauer, who ousted Walberg from the south-central Michigan seat two years ago.
The race also is attracting financial help from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which has spent $1 million over the same period.
In many congressional races around the country, Democratic incumbents are in trouble and tea party-backed candidates such as Walberg are doing well. But Schauer may turn that equation on its head, despite GOP efforts to defeat him.
Schauer, 49, beat Walberg in 2008 by focusing on the economy, eking out a 49 percent to 46 percent victory that was aided by Michigan going decidedly for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
This time around, it's the 59-year-old Walberg who has been hammering away on what he says is the incumbent's poor handling of the economy.
In a matchup of two experienced lawmakers, more voters appear ready to stick with Schauer.
A poll released last week by Lansing-based EPIC-MRA showed Schauer with a slight lead — 45 percent to 39 percent — over Walberg, with 7 percent backing a third-party candidate and 9 percent undecided. The poll's margin of sampling error was plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
David Farley, a 71-year-old retiree from Albion who said he often supports Republicans, said he plans to vote for Schauer, in part because he doesn't believe Walberg's conservative views are in step with the 7th District.
"If Satan was running on the other side of the ticket, I still wouldn't vote for Walberg," said Farley, a former Navy officer, farmer and executive director of a community foundation. "Walberg is not an outsider." Walberg and the Republicans have tried to link Schauer to the Democratic leadership, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and to highlight his support for the health care overhaul and economic stimulus package.
"(Schauer) doesn't want to tout his record at all. He's been staying away from it," Walberg said at a recent debate in Jackson.
Schauer, who has run ads saying he works for Michigan, not Washington, has focused his message on what he has done to help bring jobs to the economically troubled district and state.
"There is a clear, clear choice in this campaign, and the differences couldn't be more stark. I think that's what people need to understand," Schauer said during the same debate.
Schauer had raised $2.79 million as of Sept. 30, while Walberg, a former state lawmaker and pastor from Tipton, raised $1.25 million.
The national parties aren't the only ones writing sizable checks to help their chosen candidates.
Through early October, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees had paid for $654,000 in TV ads in support of Schauer's campaign, while two groups, Americans for Prosperity and the American Future Fund, had combined to spend close to that much promoting Walberg.
Walberg supporter Margaret Canham said she feels ads are being used to distort Walberg's record on Social Security.
"It's the old 'scare-the-elderly, frighten-the-people' kind of attitude when they get desperate, and I don't like that," said Canham, a 64-year-old retiree from Washtenaw County's Lodi Township and the widow of Don Canham, the former University of Michigan athletic director.
Voters in the district, which runs along the Ohio border, have proven fickle over the past decade when choosing who should represent them in Washington — perhaps fitting for such a diverse region. Home to thousands of blue-collar workers, military installations and vast stretches of farmland, the district is also home to the headquarters for cereal giant Kellogg and utility Consumers Energy as well as Adrian and Hillsdale colleges.
Following veteran Republican Rep. Nick Smith's 2004 retirement, the 7th District has picked a different winner every two years. Voters backed moderate Republican Joe Schwarz in 2004, Walberg in 2006 and Schauer in 2008.
Former Democratic President Bill Clinton appeared with Schauer Sunday at a rally in the candidate's hometown of Battle Creek.
"All we're asking for is two more years. That's four years," Clinton said. "We're asking you for half as much time to get out of the hole as you gave Republicans to dig it."