Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

October 27, 2013

Jack Lessenberry: Politicians gear up for battle

Voters elected the entire current House of Representatives less than a year ago. Nevertheless, the politicians are already hard at work planning next year’s campaigns.

That’s not surprising - given what’s at stake and the money candidates need these days to be competitive.

Democrats know gaining the 18 seats they’d need to take back control of the U.S. House of Representatives is an extremely long shot, especially given the historical trend that the party holding the White House tends to lose, not gain seats in off-year elections.

But they are determined to try, especially after the shutdown and the possibility of defaulting on the national debt.

So there’s a nationwide battle for what few swing seats are thought to exist. In Michigan, you might expect attention would center on the First District, which includes the entire sparsely populated Upper Peninsula, and a big chunk of the northern lower, as well.

There, U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Iron River, won re-election by fewer than 2,000 votes out of nearly 400,000.

New Democratic State Chair Lon Johnson has recruited a man he believes is a strong challenger, former Vietnam veteran and Kalkaska County sheriff Jerry Cannon. But Benishek has taken some steps to move towards the center - supporting, for example, last week’s deal to fund the government and end the shutdown.

And surprisingly, all the real action so far - in both parties - has centered on the 11th district, which includes mainly middle-class and affluent Detroit-area suburbs. Things were thrown into turmoil last year when former U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, R-Livonia, failed to qualify for the ballot when many of his petition signatures turned out to have been illegally photocopied. He then abruptly quit.

That left “Krazy Kerry” Bentivolio, a reindeer trainer and ex-high school teacher whose tea party views were seen as extreme. Establishment Republicans tried, and failed, to beat him with a write-in candidate. Democrats made an effort, but their candidate, Syed Taj, a physician and township trustee, had several handicaps. Though likeable and competent, he was a Muslim with an unfamiliar name, whose voice was rich with the accent of his native India. Bentivolio won in November, 51 to 44 percent.

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