Traverse City Record-Eagle

Op-Ed Columns

June 24, 2012

George Weeks: Michigan getting more notice as swing state

Sparked in part by recent campaigning here by President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, Michigan is getting increased notice as a swing state in the presidential election, where latest polling suggest a dead heat.

But not to be overlooked are Michigan's sprightly congressional races, some of which downstate are getting national attention. Also, the GOP challenge of two-term Sen. Debbie Stabenow is heating up.

Weird best describes the buildup for the race for the 11th Congressional District seat now held by five-term Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, R-Livonia.

McCotter is a former state senator who abandoned thoughts of challenging Stabenow this year and then made a late and underfinanced quirky bid for the GOP presidential nomination. The witty conservative would have been an engaging participant in primary debates but was not invited by the sponsors to participate.

After he abandoned his presidential bid, McCotter launched a petition drive to get on the Aug. 7 primary ballot as a write-in candidate for re-election. But this veteran politician strangely failed to get enough valid signatures to run again in a district that was remapped after the last census to be even more favorable to him.

Kerry Benitivolio, a reindeer farmer and ex-high school teacher with tea party backing, was the only Republican to make the ballot. Many GOP leaders are touting former State Sen. Nancy Cassis as a write-in candidate.

Another interesting Republican party battle is in the 16th-term bid of 6th District Rep. Fred Upon, of St. Joseph, chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee.

He's challenged for a second time by ex-state Rep. Jack Hoogendyk, of Kalamazoo, backed again by tea party and other conservative forces.

But Inside Michigan Politics (IMP) newsletter said that so far Hoogendyk, who in 2008 was the GOP's sacrificial lamb big time (63%-34%) loser against Sen. Carl Levin, "hasn't gotten the financial support he needs to make a real fight of his latest clash with the forces of perceived 'moderation' in his party."

An interesting Democratic congressional primary in the remapped 14th District pits current 9th District second-term Rep. Gary Peters, of Rochester Hills, who is white, against current freshman 12th District Rep Hansen Clarke, of Detroit, who is black. IMP last month said Peters is likely to win the nomination in "the most heavily Democratic district in the state, 85%."

Up North, a primary is not an issue in the sprawling two-peninsula 1st District. Freshman Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, faces a rematch with ex-state Rep. Gary McDowell, D-Rudyard, who lost to Benishek in 2010.

Both are in the midst of issue tours of the district, which is slightly more Republican after redistricting that added counties favorable to Benishek in the Grand Traverse area.

Physician Benishek has been on a tour to visit 100 small businesses in 100 days, and also has been issuing a stream of releases on other issues. Last week, he joined a congressional effort focused on battling cancer.

For his part, opponent farmer McDowell, on one stop during his "save our retirement" tour, said at a stop at the Norlite Nursing Center in Marquette "we need to reduce the federal deficit, but not on the backs of Michigan seniors."

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