Traverse City Record-Eagle

August 5, 2012

Benishek-McDowell race called 'toss-up'

By George Weeks
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---- — With the general election about upon us, Michigan's most competitive congressional contest appears to be in the sprawling 1st District, where freshman Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, faces a rematch with ex-state representative Gary McDowell, D-Rudyard, who lost in 2010.

Inside Michigan Politics newsletter on July 2 proclaimed the race "lean GOP" — the nearest thing at the time to a projected competitive general election race among Michigan's nine Republican seats and five Democratic seats.

More recently, the latest national Cook Political Report calls it Michigan's only "toss up" congressional race. Democrats proclaim it one of 14 such races against House GOP incumbents across the land.

In the 1st District, Benishek and McDowell, a farmer, had early primary opposition but their opponents withdrew — Republican Larry Inman, chairman of the Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners, to seek reelection, and Democratic Derek Bailey, former chairman of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, to run for the state House in the 101st District.

Benishek so far has out-raised McDowell $1,274,042 to $920,358, and vastly out-spent him $771,549 to $305,530. No wonder: Benishek has been advertising heavily and effectively in the Traverse City TV market — key to the redrawn district across the northern Lower Peninsula.

McDowell leads in all-important cash-on-hand--$620,358 to $498,279. His campaign won't say when he'll start tapping the war chest for TV ads, but it's unlikely to be this week.

Given keen focus of the national parties on the Benishek-McDowell race, look for the parties and political action committees to open wallets wide in remaining weeks. So far, Benishek has received 49 percent of his money from PACs; McDowell 32 percent.

Benishek scheduled Monday appearances in Traverse City with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani including a visit to a small business (M22) that brings to 93 the number of stops on Benishek's "100-in-100" days tour of businesses.

He said: "At every visit, I'm hearing more of the same — that high taxes, overregulation, the increasing healthcare costs are hindering job creation and that the federal government is only making matters worse."

McDowell is in the midst of his "Our Lakes, Our Livelihood" tour. In Marquette last week, he contended Benishek "is not looking out for our lakes or our economy. I'll change that." Given Benishek's 11-point win in 2010, subsequent redistricting favorable to him in the Grand Traverse Region, and his TV blitz in the region, odds may now favor him.

But stay tuned to what political pundits expect to be a highly competitive, and expensive, race.

McDowell already has raised more than the $838,208 that he spent in 2010, and Benishek has raised close to the total $1,388,629 he spent to get elected.

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.