---- — DETROIT (AP) — Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak's surprise decision to retire after 18 years in congress has Republicans eager to pick up the seat in the socially conservative district.
Crystal Falls surgeon Dan Benishek is determined to take the 1st District seat from the Democrats, who have held it since Stupak's initial victory in 1992. The district covers portions of northern Michigan north of Traverse City, as well as the Upper Peninsula.
Benishek won August's GOP primary by a meager 15 votes, leading him to jokingly crown himself "Landslide Dan." But the backing of those in the tea party movement and others angry with the federal health care changes make Benishek a formidable candidate in the general election.
"It's getting pretty intense. We're very different candidates with very different visions of where we want this country to go," said state Rep. Gary McDowell, of Rudyard, Benishek's Democratic foe. "It's definitely a very close race. That's why it's being so hotly contested."
Former state Rep. Bill Huizenga, a Republican from Zeeland, has the inside track against Democratic nominee Fred Johnson, a Hope College history professor who was soundly defeated by incumbent Pete Hoekstra in the 2nd District race in 2008.
Hoekstra left the seat in a district that includes Manistee and Benzie counties in favor of a run for governor in the Republican primary, which he lost to Rick Snyder.
Incumbents in the state's other eight districts face major-party opposition, but are expected to win re-election, including Republican Dave Camp of Midland, whose 4th district includes Grand Traverse, Leelanau and Kalkaska counties.