BY BRIAN McGILLIVARY
TRAVERSE CITY — Betsy Coffia chose to run an unconventional campaign for Michigan's 104th House District by eschewing the lifeblood of the modern campaign: Political Action Committee money.
Coffia refused to accept any large donations from organizations or special interests. Instead she's relied on individual donations and an army of volunteers to spread her message.
"This is about the democratic process, which should be about people, not money," said Coffia, a Democrat. "You can't say that and then turn around and take that money."
Coffia's message that special interest money is purchasing — and undermining — democracy resonates with voters, but she faces the "proverbial catch-22," said Ross Richardson, a county commissioner and vice chairman of the county Democratic Party.
"Money in politics is what you use to get your message out, and without the money it's a little difficult to get your message out," he said. "She's a great candidate ... but it costs money to run a race."
Her opponent, two-term incumbent Republican Wayne Schmidt, said he takes her challenge seriously. He's doing all the standard campaign tactics: knocking on some doors, sending out mailings, and paying for a radio ad that encourages listeners to send the "Republican team" back to Lansing.
Schmidt raised over $131,000 this election cycle, much of it from special interests. But since the August Primary Schmidt spent just $19,154 campaigning, and that includes a $4,000 gift to the House Republican Campaign Committee. It also includes travel expenses for campaigning for Republicans in targeted races around the state.
Coffia raised $18,900 for the campaign and spent $10,747 since the primary.
Republicans show no signs of concern about Coffia, though they acknowledge she has run a spirited, well-organized campaign.
"She's not going to beat Wayne, this county usually polls 60 to 40 Republican," said Larry Inman, Grand Traverse County Board chairman and a hopeful to replace Schmidt in 2014.
Coffia said she's been underestimated on other occasions.
"We're making up for not having a boat-load of money with a boat-load of people," Coffia said. "We have so much grass-roots energy, and word of mouth, that's powerful."