A Republican familiar with Michigan and the local politics in and around Stupak’s massive district shares some thoughts with me:
One can’t help but notice the similarities to what happened this morning and what allowed Bart Stupak to win the seat in 1992. It was an open seat race in 1992 because the late Bob Davis decided against re-election after being implicated in the House banking scandal. Republicans turned to Philip Ruppe, who held the seat from 1967-1979.
While this is one of the most Republican seats represented by a Democrat north of the Mason-Dixon line, the GOP cannot afford to sit back and lose it. You can expect a scramble in party circles to unite behind a candidate. Dr. Benishek has certainly emerged as the strongest of the current crop, but there are certainly a lot of people who may be re-thinking their decisions [now that it’s an open seat].
Dr. Benishek is currently working with former Michigan Republican Party chairman Saul Anuzis and 2008 Romney consultant Katie Packer . . . though it’s unclear if they’d ditch him for a stronger candidate. Dr. Benishek’s early insider support has turned off some of the Tea Party activists, who are rallying behind unknown Tom Stillings. Stillings is a self-described “Tea Party Republican” but few of his supporters are party leaders . . . most of them have little to no history of GOP involvement.
Republicans have a short frontbench, unless sitting legislators moved into the district. On this list would be term-limited State Senator Jason Allen, who represents seven counties in the district, lives about 25 minutes outside the seat in Traverse City. He can raise money and would be the odds-on for insider support, but faces the challenge of being called a carpet-bagger from Upper Peninsula Democrats. The same can be said for term-limited State Senator Tony Stamas, who lives about 4 miles out of the district in Midland – home of Congressman Dave Camp.
Many Republicans think the seat must now be held by someone below the Mackinac Bridge, as the U.P. has lost substantial population and the 31-county seat will only get bigger after re-districting.
If Republicans win the seat, but don’t control re-redistricting in the Legislature, Democrats could easily win the seat in 2012 by extending it to include all of Bay County or parts of Saginaw County. They could even take out Congressman Dave Camp by moving it 3 miles into Midland and the 4th District.
There’s also a chance that 2008 candidate Tom Casperson, a former GOP member of the State House, could drop his State Senate race to run again. Casperson is widely liked above and below the Mackinac Bridge and is currently deputy chairman of the Michigan Republican Party. Casperson’s biggest problem is fund-raising . . .
For the Democrats, they have a strong front-bench. State Senate Minority Leader Mike Prusi is term-limited and represents 13 counties in Upper Michigan, while former Congressman and term-limited State Senator Jim Barcia from the extreme southern end of the district is also rumored to be eying a return to Washington, though many expected it would come in the 5th District when Dale Kildee retires.
There are also several Democratic members of the State House, who fit the pro-life, pro-gun* mold of Bart Stupak, that were looking at running for the upper chamber of the Legislature, but may be in the race now: Andy Neumann, of Alpena, and Joel Sheltrown. Barcia and Sheltrown are the most conservative of the Democrats.
* If I remember correctly, Stupak has a few anti-gun votes and was graded a C+ by the NRA in at least one cycle.