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Ken Winter

Ken Winter

Physician vs. Hay Farmer

November 2, 2012

In early October, Michigan political analyst Bill Ballenger told state university and college political scientists that Michigan’s 1st Congressional District race would be ground zero in Michigan political contests, especially in the congressional races. It looks like his prediction was right as northern Michigan media call the race a draw.

The incumbent, Dr. Dan Benishek of the Upper Peninsula’s Crystal Falls, now completing his freshman term, is locked in a tight race with former State Representative Gary McDowell (D-Rudyard) for round two.

After Congressman Bart Stupak (D-Menominee) announced his retirement in 2010, political newcomer Benishek ran under the Tea Party banner and defeated McDowell by 11%, 120,523 (51.9%) to 94,824 (40.9%). Polls show the 2012 race much tighter.

Michigan’s 1st Congressional District covers the entire Upper Peninsula and about a quarter of the Lower Peninsula. The district is the second largest east of the Mississippi River by land area. The district makes up about 44% of the land area of the state of Michigan. It also contains the second-longest shoreline of any district in the United States, behind Alaska’s at-large congressional district. Of Michigan’s 83 counties, 30 lie fully within the district, and it contains a portion of one other.

Attack ads in the 1st Congressional District abound, with each contender spending thousands of dollars supplemented by swarms of PAC ads run on their behalf, accusing the other of assorted evils.

Benishek calls McDowell, a high-tax “career politician.” The Benishek camp says McDowell voted in Lansing for $1.3 billion in tax hikes during the administration of Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm. The McDowell camp, in turn, says Benishek voted on Capitol Hill against the interests of seniors.

The Traverse City Record-Eagle reported that the Traverse City region had aired more than $7.1 million out of the $52 million of state political television advertising as of Oct. 8 when then still three weeks remained in the election season.

McDowell and the Democratic Congressional Committee had by then purchased $842,840 in TV ads, compared to $992,795 for Benishek and the Republican National Congressional Committee.

Rich Robinson, executive director of the non-profit Michigan Campaign Finance Network, told the Record-Eagle that the numbers for the Benishek and McDowell race were conservative because they did not include buys by independent groups or political parties that may be involved in one or more races.

Local broadcasters say the spending for television ads in Traverse City market has been “unprecedented”. They say the increase comes primarily from the Benishek and McDowell race along with the statewide ballot proposals.

Ken Winter, former editor and publisher of the Petoskey News-Review and member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, teaches political science and journalism at North Central Michigan College in Petoskey and Michigan State University.

November 1, 2012 · Filed under Winter

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