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Stupak decision unleashes ‘free-for-all’

April 9, 2010 - Jim Anderson
U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak’s decision to retire means that Dr. Dan Benishek of Crystal Falls will likely face a much tougher fight for the GOP nomination.

With the longtime Democratic congressman out, it appears the National Republican Congressional Committee is looking for more candidates to step forward.

The Associated Press reports that Michigan House Republican Leader Kevin Elsenheimer is taking a ‘‘serious look’’ at running for Stupak’s seat. (Elsenheimer can’t run for the state House again because of term limits. His district includes Antrim, Charlevoix, Otsego and most of Cheboygan counties.)

Tom Erickson, regional press secretary for the National Republican Congressional Committee, sent an e-mail Friday morning noting that Stupak’s retirement presents Republicans “with a very promising opportunity.”

Erickson quickly followed with a Cook Political Report analysis of the 1st District election. Here is a portion of that Cook Report, which rates the competitiveness of the race:

“Rep. Bart Stupak’s decision not to seek a tenth term in his northern Michigan district moves yet another previously safe Democratic seat into the Toss Up column ...

“During the health care fight, Stupak may have attracted more national notoriety than any representative in the Upper Peninsula ever has, but most of his critics were well outside his district and Stupak was very unlikely to lose the primary or general elections.

“Without Stupak on the ballot, however, expect a free-for-all. This geographically huge district is as politically mixed as they come. In fact, no district voted more narrowly for President Obama in 2008. Here, deep roots in the community matter more than party affiliation.

“When Stupak (who is from Menominee on the Upper Peninsula) first won this seat in 1992, 54 percent of 1st CD residents lived on the Upper Peninsula. Due to population loss and redistricting, 53 percent of residents now live south of the Mackinac Bridge. Prior to Stupak's election, Republicans had held this seat since 1966.

“To keep this seat in the current political environment, Democrats will need to field a culturally conservative candidate with impeccable northern Michigan credentials. Look for plenty more Republicans besides the only current announced candidate, surgeon Dan Benishek, to take a look at the race. This seat moves from the Solid Democratic column to the Toss Up column.”

In actuality, there are three announced Republican candidates — Benishek, Linda Goldthorpe and Don Hooper — but Benishek has certainly attracted the most attention and cash.

It’s interesting that the NRCC’s Erickson showed no hesitation in forwarding an analysis stating that Stupak was unlikely to lose the seat, had he stayed in the race. (Cook Report was founded in 1984 by political analyst Charlie Cook — yes, you’re more apt to see him on MSNBC than Fox.)

Given Benishek’s political inexperience, and the fact that the district has shifted from a majority of U.P. residents to a majority of downstate residents, it’s hardly surprising that the NRCC would encourage a larger field.

Meanwhile, the only announced Democratic candidate — Connie Saltonstall of Charlevoix — is also unlikely to go unchallenged for long.


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