GOP Rep. Benishek Faces Close Rematch Race

Monday, 29 Oct 2012 11:04 AM

By Andra Varin

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Michigan Rep. Dan Benishek defeated Democrat Gary McDowell in 2010, but the Republican is finding the same competition a lot tougher this time around.

Benishek's victory in Michigan’s 1st congressional district in the U.S. House after incumbent Bart Stupak, a Blue Dog Democrat, decided to retire amid outrage over his vote  for Obamacare.

It was the first time since before World War II that a Republican had won the seat, long a bastion of pro-union moderate Democrats. What was expected to be a tight finish was not even close with Benishek, a surgeon, taking 52 percent of the vote to McDowell's 41 percent with the rest split between four minor-party candidates.
Dan Benishek (AP Photo)

Benishek's win in the district — which includes Michigan's Upper Peninsula and the northernmost parts of the Lower Peninsula — was seen by Republicans as a symbolic victory over Obamacare.

Now Democrats have the seat targeted and believe it will return to the blue column.

That has led to outside money pouring into the district where voter interest is high. A debate between the two 60-year-olds held in Petoskey on the Lower Peninsula was standing room only, with voters, eager to hear what the two men had to say, overflowing into the lobby of the North Central Michigan College library.

The difference this time around is that Benishek has a political record. He was largely unknown as a politician and had not been elected to public office before he rode into power on 2010's tea party wave. The area relies heavily on federal funding and his conservative leanings have not always proved popular.

So far Benishek, the grandson of Bohemian and Polish immigrants, has raised $1.7 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. McDowell, the oldest of 10 children who prides himself on being a fifth-generation “Yooper,” as residents of the Upper Peninsula are known, has raised $1.3 million.

Gary McDowell (AP Photo)
Both candidates are getting a lot of support from super PACs supporting their parties. Benishek has also received endorsements from the Michigan Farm Bureau, Right to Life of Michigan, Gun Owners of America, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

The NRA, which supported McDowell last time around, has switched its endorsement and is backing the Republican this time. It gives Benishek an A+ rating for his work in Congress as opposed to an A rating for the Democrat during his six years in the state House of Representatives.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Benishek has received $167,225 in support from health professionals and $170,953 from leadership PACs

But McDowell, a hay farmer who spent 23 years working as a UPS deliveryman, has his own allies. He’s been supported to the tune of $67,500 from building trade unions, which include iron workers, operating engineers and painters, among others. Leadership PACs have put another $65,250 behind him, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

And the League of Conservation Voters has launched a billboard campaign against Benishek, claiming he has "his head in the sand" because he does not accept climate change theory. "I'm not sure how significant global warming is," he said during the Oct. 15 debate. "I spent a lot of time in the sciences, and you know, I'm not exactly sure what's happening with the climate."

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