Traverse City Record-Eagle

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."

'I love being home'

So said Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney while campaigning last week in Oakland County, where he was born and raised as son of 1963-69 Gov. George Romney and Lenore Romney, who in 1970 mounted a feeble 858,470 to 1,744,716 challenge against Democratic 1959-76 Sen. Phil Hart.

The question now is how do Michigan voters like the latest Romney before them.

The Detroit News said last week that President Barack Obama has a 5.5 percentage lead over Romney in its latest poll with WDIV-TV, buoyed by a gender gap favoring Obama among women by a margin of 50.4 percent to 42 percent.

Obama led Romney by 47.5 percent to 42 percent, about the same as in the spring, in the poll conducted by Richard Czuba of Glengariff Group, who noted of the gender gap: "This is an advantage not only President Obama has, but the Democratic Party has."

The poll, also reflecting strong support from woman, also gave Sen. Debbie Stabenow a 7 percent point lead over Republican challenger ex-Congressman Pete Hoekstra of Holland.

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