Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 7, 2012

Ag issues raised on northern campaign trails

By George Weeks
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---- — Failure of Congress to pass a farm bill flared last week on campaign trails in Northern Michigan.

Ex-state Rep. Gary McDowell, D-Rudyard, a fifth generation farmer who is challenging 1st District freshman Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, staged a media conference call from Sault Ste. Marie to criticize Benishek for failing to support House approval of a Senate-passed bill for which Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, has been praised for getting bipartisan backing.

McDowell contends Benishek has failed to support the bill or respond to farmers being "in a heck of a predicament" because of drought, a spring freeze and other issues.

In response, Benishek aides said he has urged House leaders to get the Senate bill out of committee for a floor vote.

Stabenow, who leads Hoekstra in polling, is airing TV ads citing her role on the bill and was in Leelanau County last week touting cherry and apple farms. As noted here previously, she has been endorsed by the GOP-leaning Michigan Farm Bureau.

Stabenow's Republican opponent, former U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Holland, also has been citing ag issues and meeting with Farm Bureau affiliates, including last week in Kalkaska.

Hoekstra last week won endorsement of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which told him: "At no other time in our nation's history has it been more critical that Members of Congress provide leadership that protects and advances the interests of the business community. We believe that your election to the U.S. Senate will help produce sustained economic growth, help create more jobs, and get our country back on track."

Huge bucks in high profile race

As noted here previously, the Benishek-McDowell race is viewed by both national parties and assorted national commentators as a top-to-watch toss-up.

Last week, the Wall Street Journal had an astounding report on the contest: Groups supporting McDowell have outspent conservative groups supporting Benishek 8-to-1 in the race.

It said pro-Republican groups have spent about $100,000 on ads for Benishek, while "On the Democratic side, three entities have each exceeded that total for challenger Gary McDowell, the biggest being $350,000 from the League of Conservation Voters."

The LCV also weighed in on Michigan House races, including Up North. For example, it endorsed Democrat Allen O'Shea over 101st District Rep. Ray Franz, R-Onekema, who was dubbed by the national LCV as one of the 12 worst state legislators in the country on environmental and conservation issues.

Granholm to the rescue?

In her last year in office, Gov. Jennifer Granholm was trotted out in supportive roles for President Barack Obama. This year, she had a high-profile role at the Democratic National Convention.

Last week, the former governor, an author who has her own national show on Current TV, faced off on CNN with Republican ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich for assessments of the Obama-Mitt Romney presidential debate. While not disputing that Obama had a lackluster performance, as indeed he did, Granholm bested Newt and suggested that Romney pitches were replete with "pants on fire lies."

Should there be a second Obama administration, it's a good bet there will be an offer of an appointment for Granholm.

George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, for 22 years was the political columnist for The Detroit News and previously with UPI as Lansing bureau chief and foreign editor in Washington. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.