As two-term 1st District U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek , R-Crystal Falls, gears up for a likely 2014 reelection bid, he could face a far different dynamic than when he twice defeated fellow Yooper and former Democratic state Rep. Gary McDowell, a hay farmer from Rudyard.
Benishek’s Democratic opponent undoubtedly will be Jerry Cannon, 65, former Kalkaska County sheriff (1987-2004) and retired Army National Guard major general (1977-2012) who announced last week, after having been recruited by Democratic State Chairman Lon Johnson (also a Kalkaska area guy) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
On paper, Benishek has a favorable district. Inside Michigan Politics (IMP) newsletter, based on down-the-ticket outcomes over four general elections, calculates a current “Base Democratic Party Strength” in the 1st District of 46.4 percent.
In the IMP calculations, the Democratic bases are in the 40s in districts of all nine Republicans in Michigan’s 14-member U.S. House delegation.
Nationally, the Rothenberg Political Report views as “toss up/tilt Republican” the sprawling Michigan 1st District that is the second-largest geographically east of the Mississippi River. The Cook Political Report dubs the district “leans Republican.”
But Democratic strategists contend there could be an edge for Cannon, as he is in their view, an especially credible candidate from one of the 17 counties below the bridge, where there could be a stronger turnout than there was when both candidates were from the 15-county Upper Peninsula.
Before Benishek, the district was long represented by Democrat Bart Stupak of Menominee (1993-2011), who followed Republican Robert Davis of Gaylord (1979-92) and Republican Philip Ruppe of Houghton (1967-1978).
While party and two-peninsula dynamics are of interest, of more importance is where new candidate Cannon is on the issues. In a phone chat last week, he said of his career in the military, law enforcement and approach to politics:
“My entire life is about service. …I am a workhorse for the middle class.”
On some specific issues:
— He’s critical of the Obama administration on its efforts to curtail advance of Asian carp toward the Great Lakes, saying the Corps of Engineers should do more than it is doing.
— He will “work my butt…to create jobs. …I will be focused like a laser on three things: What’s good for the economy, what’s good for northern Michigan and getting the middle class a fair shake.”
— He supports the position of Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, that on sexual assault issues in the military, the commanding offices should remain prevailing authorities, rather than substitute assigned prosecutors as has been proposed by others.
— He lumps Benishek in his criticism of “politicians in Washington who have forgotten why they were sent there—to create jobs and work for the middle class.”
But Vietnam Marine enlisted veteran Cannon stopped short of criticism of Benishek, a surgeon with a long practice in a veteran hospital and father of a Navy daughter, on a cause they share — caring for wounded warriors and otherwise helping returning vets.
Benishek, 61, is a survivor of close elections. In the 2010 GOP congressional primary against state Sen. Jason Allen (now a state official in the Snyder Administration allied with Benishek on helping veterans) Benishek won by just 15 votes out of nearly 99,000 votes. In the 2012 general election against Democrat McDowell, Benishek won by less than 1 percentage point.
Given recent history and today’s dynamics, there could be quite a congressional battle Up North in November 2014.
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.