Traverse City Record-Eagle

Op-Ed Columns

August 26, 2012

High national profile for 1st District race

Over the decades, Michigan's northernmost congressional district has had prominent veteran members of the U.S. House, including 1953-64 Rep. Victor Knox, R-Sault Ste. Marie, and 1993-2010 Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee.

But there's never been quite the national high-profile and costly campaign focus on the district by the parties as there is now on the reelection bid of freshman 1st District Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, a physician who faces a rematch with 2010 Democratic foe Gary McDowell, a farmer and former state representative from Rudyard.

Importance to the GOP was underscored by selection of Benishek as a first day speaker Monday at this week's Republican National Convention in Tampa.

His aides said Saturday the remarks will have a northern Michigan emphasis and touch on the economy, jobs and health care, and is scheduled for 3:44p.m., to be carried by C-SPAN.

The networks are not carrying the first day of the convention.

(As of this writing, with Tropical Storm Isaac heading toward Florida and threatening to turn into a hurricane, it was not known whether the convention will be disrupted.) Benishek, the only elected Michigan official with a speaking role, said: "A little over two years ago, I was treating patients in rural northern Michigan, never thinking I would run for public office. Now, two years later, I have the honor of addressing the Republican National Convention."

Further highlighting the Benishek-McDowell race, the National Republican Congressional Committee last week launched TV ads attacking McDowell on economic issues.

Priority of the race for Democrats was highlighted by a swarm of TV ads by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Benishek's district attacking him on Medicare in the Traverse City market, and, starting Aug. 23 in the Marquette market, for voting to give members of Congress taxpayer funded health care for life.

The DCCC also launched automated phone calls attacking Benishek on Medicare.

In response to Democratic attacks on Benishek for wanting to "privatize Medicare and Social Security," Benishek spokesman Raffi Williams said Saturday he "wants to offer citizens a choice between the existing system and an alternative."

In response to my inquiry about what the parties are doing, McDowell said Friday:

"Of course it's a targeted race. Folks up here know Congressman Benishek isn't looking out for them in Washington"¦ "What we really need to do is come together to protect and strengthen Medicare for seniors — not force seniors to pay $6,400 a year more for their Medicare like Congressman Benishek voted to do."

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