LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan primary voters will begin determining what could be one of the bigger shake-ups in the state’s congressional delegation in years, a revamp that could become even larger if business-supported Republican challengers can topple tea party-backed congressmen.
The Aug. 5 election features a bit of everything: four open seats, two heavily-financed challenges to incumbents and the start to replacing the longest-serving member of Congress in history.
While faces in the House delegation will change, it’s unlikely the GOP’s 9-5 edge will shift come November, according to political analysts. Some story lines in the primary races:
John Dingell, a Dearborn Democrat who has been in Congress for a record 58 years, is retiring along with Republicans Dave Camp, of Midland, and Mike Rogers, of Howell. A fourth House seat is opening up because Democratic Rep. Gary Peters, of Bloomfield Township, is running for the Senate seat held by retiring Democrat Carl Levin.
It’s the most open seats since 1992 — when redistricting, retirements and a primary upset ushered out seven of 18 House members.
Due to gerrymandered boundaries, voters in the four districts are unlikely to send someone from the other party to Washington, D.C. So whoever wins the incumbent party’s primary will in all likelihood become a member of Congress.
Odds are heavy that Dingell, whose father served 22 years before Dingell Jr. won election in 1955, will hand the reins to another Dingell, his wife Debbie. A former General Motors executive who chairs the Wayne State University Board of Governors, Debbie Dingell faces minimal opposition in the 12th District primary.
Another Detroit-area seat, the 14th District, is more hotly contested. Four Democrats, including former Rep. Hansen Clarke, are vying to replace Peters. Clarke likely has the edge because of name recognition, but state Rep. Rudy Hobbs and Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence raised much more than him and had more to spend in the closing weeks of the race.
The surprise retirements of veterans Camp and Rogers — the influential chairmen of the House Ways and Means and Intelligence committees, respectively — prompted competitive GOP primaries.
Saginaw-area businessman Paul Mitchell, a former state GOP finance chairman, loaned his campaign $1.9 million — all but $10,000 of his entire amount raised — to seriously contend for Camp’s 4th District in central Michigan. While State Sen. John Moolenaar, of Midland, is favored by business organizations, a national tea party group and hometown friends Camp and Attorney General Bill Schuette, analysts say it could be too late to counter Mitchell’s blitz of TV ads, including negative attacks.
“When you allow your opponent to massively outspend and define you early, that puts you in a hole that’s almost impossible to get out of,” said Joe DiSano, a Democratic political consultant. “Money in politics allows you to exert your will on people, and that’s really what’s going on here.”
The Republican primary in Rogers’ 8th District, which stretches from Lansing to the northern Detroit suburbs, features former state Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop of Rochester and state Rep. Tom McMillin of Rochester Hills. Bishop has the backing of Rogers and various chambers of commerce, while McMillin picked up support from national tea party groups.
Speaking of the tea party ...
The tea party vs. establishment fight playing out in GOP primaries in other states has a twist in Michigan. Here, it’s also the establishment challenging incumbents — libertarian-leaning Rep. Justin Amash in western Michigan and tea party-backed Rep. Kerry Bentivolio in the Detroit suburbs.
Bentivolio, a then-unknown reindeer farmer and teacher who unexpectedly won the 11th District after Republican incumbent Thad McCotter submitted fraudulent signatures in 2012, faces Dave Trott, a Birmingham foreclosure lawyer with a five-to-one fundraising advantage. Trott has loaned or given his campaign $2.4 million of the $3.4 million it has raised.
In the 3rd District, Grand Rapids investment adviser Brian Ellis has loaned his campaign $800,000 to more or less keep pace in fundraising with Amash. The second-termer Amash’s high percentage of money from individual donors instead of political action committees is “extraordinary” for a sitting member of Congress, said Rich Robinson, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.
Ellis has the backing of the state Chamber of Commerce, Right to Life and the Michigan Farm Bureau, while Amash continues to be supported by the wealthy DeVos family and has gotten independent help from the anti-tax group Club for Growth.
Bill Ballenger, a political analyst and former GOP state lawmaker, said the Democrats could challenge for the seats held by Bentivolio and Rogers, who’s leaving to host a national talk radio show, but that it’s unlikely.
“Even though the bodies and the individuals who take their seats in Congress next January are going to be different, the 9-5 party split — the odds favor it being the same as it is right now,” Ballenger said.
THE NEXT DEAN?
For a while, it was anybody’s guess if Rep. John Conyers — in line to be the next Dean of the House with Dingell’s retirement — was going to appear on the primary ballot. Detroit pastor, activist and 13th District challenger the Rev. Horace Sheffield III challenged Conyers’ petitions after it was learned that at least two circulators weren’t registered to vote in Wayne County.
A review found Conyers more than 400 signatures short of the 1,000 needed after the signatures collected by those workers were tossed. Michigan’s secretary of state agreed. Conyers appealed and a federal judge in May ordered that his name be placed on the ballot.
Until this year, Conyers has had little to fear in re-elections during his nearly 50 years in Congress.
The year after his wife, Monica Conyers, pleaded guilty to a bribery charge in a Detroit City Hall corruption scandal, John Conyers was uncontested in the Democratic primary and easily won the 2010 general election. Two years later when Michigan Republicans re-crafted district boundaries, Conyers took the 13th District primary with 55 percent of the vote. He trounced his Republican opponent in the general election with nearly 83 percent of the vote.
With Sheffield opposing him, this year is different, Conyers acknowledged.
“Right now I’ve got a good challenge,” he said. “The challenge that I like so much is now presented to me and I’ve got to get with it. I welcome competition. As a matter of fact, I thrive on it. Without that you can slack off and begin to go backward instead of going forward. I look forward to a vigorous exchange on the issues.”