2008-08-16 / Columnists

Primary Votes Send Loud Messages

Michigan Politics
By George Weeks

In downstate congressional races, a Democrat just had a huge primary scare and two Republicans face high profile challenges this fall.

Up North, eight-term Representative Bart Stupak (DMenominee) has a spirited challenge but is heavily favored in a district that, on paper, is competitive. Nine-term Representative Dave Camp (R-Midland) and eight-term Representative Pete Hoekstra (R-Holland) again have easy sledding in solidly Republican districts.

Six-term Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick narrowly won her primary three days before her scandal-plagued and now-tethered son, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, spent a night in jail for violating terms of a bond, and then on Friday was charged by Attorney General Mike Cox with two felony assault/obstruction charges. She undoubtedly would have lost if she had not had two opponents who split the anti- Kilpatrick vote.

Two of the prime targets of Democrats in the national spotlight are eight-term Representative Joe Knollenberg of Bloomfield Township, who faces ex-Lottery Director Gary Peters, and freshman Representative Tim Walberg of Tipton, challenged by state Senate Minority Leader Mark Schauer. Walberg is the more vulnerable.

The Michigan GOP is full steam behind the challenge of Stupak by term-limited state Representative Tom Casperson of Escanaba, who impressively outpolled two primary opponents. But it will take a surge in his own fundraising before GOP biggies in Washington give him serious support.

Casperson lusts not for the national attention that blazes on challengers Peters and Schauer downstate. He just hopes to gain some attention of voters in the sprawling district that includes the Upper Peninsula and 16 counties below the bridge - nearly half of Michigan and the second-largest district east of the Mississippi.

In a gimmick bid for attention, he issued a press release last week headlined "Casperson Offers to Suspend Congressional Campaign" to allow Stupak "an opportunity to turn his attention away from our campaign and instead focus his efforts on convincing his leader, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to interrupt their summer vacation and bring Congress back to vote on permitting domestic [energy] exploration."

I reached Casperson on his cell phone Friday as he campaigned in the Upper Peninsula in the aging Chevy minivan that he bought after he last winter totaled a Chrysler with 156,000 miles downstate, when another driver, skidding on an icy road, forced him into a ditch.

Asked about his war chest, he said he has raised about $90,000 - which far surpasses what was raised in the entire campaigns of four of Stupak's challengers, but far short of what was raised by four others.

Stupak, who as of July 16 had $550,957 cash on hand, said: "I am looking forward to a spirited general election campaign. Nationally…it is already shaping up to be one of the most exciting elections our country has seen in the past half century. With so much energy at the top of the ticket, it's easy for the congressional, state, and local races to be overshadowed."

Truth is, it is to the advantage of incumbents Stupak, Camp, and Hoekstra if their races are overshadowed. They coast over low-visibility challengers.

After first winning his seat by 54% in 1992, Stupak was reelected by these percentages: 57, 71, 59, 58, 68, and 66.

All of the winning percentages for Hoekstra, who this year faces Democrat Fred Johnson of Holland, have been in the 60s and 70s. That also is the case for Camp, now facing Democrat Andrew Concannon of Saginaw, except in 1998 when he got 91% against his only opponent, a Libertarian.

Family Fatigue?

Congresswoman Kilpatrick clearly was hurt by her son's woes. Some other family trees were shaken in primaries, but not necessarily because of antidynasty reaction.

Cavanagh, as noted here recently, is a Democratic tall timber name in Michigan politics. There was Detroit Mayor Jerome Cavanagh and there is brother Michigan Supreme Court Justice Mike Cavanagh. Others in the clan lost primaries last week downstate, but credit better campaigns by opponents.

McManus is a potent Republican name in northwest lower Michigan. Mike Mc- Manus of Lake Leelanau, brother of ex-Senator George Mc- Manus of Traverse City and father of Senator Michelle McManus of Lake Leelanau, lost to Manistee County grocer Ray Franz by a mere nine votes in the GOP primary for the 101st state House seat now held by term-limited Representative David Palsrock (R-Manistee) and declared a toss-up fall contest by Inside Michigan Politics newsletter.

Mason and Manistee are the most populous of the four counties in the district (Leelanau is third; Benzie fourth). But Democrat Dan Scripps of Northport, who was unopposed in Tuesday's primary, gave Palsrock a scare in 2006.

McManus said there were "hiccups," including a jammed voting machine, in two of the counties that were certified as of this writing, and upon examination of two other county returns, he would decide on whether to demand a recount.

Eight Sheriffs Defeated

For stirring local interest, there's nothing quite like a credible challenge of a sitting sheriff, especially in a primary in a county where nomination assures election, and most especially where the top gun behaves as a despot.

Last week, incumbents were zapped in Antrim, Arenac, Grand Traverse, Huron, Montmorency, Saginaw, Shiawassee, and Washtenaw counties.

Executive Director Terrence Jungel of the Michigan Sheriff's Association said losing eight out of 83 counties in an election is not unusual. Some years, there are more losses.

Those guys with badges (actually, five of the 83 are women) "spend every day dancing" on issues close to voters, says Jungel, former sheriff in Ionia County.

With all due respect to prosecutors, commissioners, and others, there are no more visible - and often controversial - county officials than sheriffs, other than in those downstate counties that have county executives.

George Weeks retired in 2006 after 22 years as political columnist for The Detroit News. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.

Return to top

Click here for digital edition
2008-08-16 digital edition