2014-08-14 / Columns

Money Not Always Decisive in Political Campaigns

Michigan Politics
By George Weeks

That big bucks do not always result in election victory was underscored by the August 5 primary, where two Michigan GOP congressional contenders won against wealthy, largely self-financed challengers.

But one self-financed contender did win, and there also were mixed results on impact of candidates supported by tea party groups—an increasing factor (not necessarily “force”) in Michigan politics, as across the nation.

In the 4th District, where 12-term Dave Camp (R-Midland) is retiring, Saginaw businessman Paul Mitchell spent more than $4 million—nearly all of the campaign’s outlay—against state Senator John Moolenaar (R-Midland), whose campaign cost less than $1 million, without his own funds.

Moolenaar won by 16 points, thanks in part to endorsements from Camp, Attorney General Bill Schuette (also a former congressman from Midland and longtime associate of Camp, who campaigned with Moolenaar in Cadillac), and the National Rifle Association and Right to Life of Michigan.

In the 11th District, first-term Kerry Bentivolio (R-Milford), longtime GOP contributor Dave Trott, a millionaire Birmingham attorney, as described by The Detroit News, “swamped Bentivolio by a 2-1 margin aided by $2.4 million in campaign spending out of his own pocket. He raised another $1 million and outspent Bentivolio by a 20-1 margin.” An astounding advantage.

In the 3rd District, financial advantage did not help Grand Rapids businessman Brian Ellis, who loaned his campaign $1 million, defeat two-term Justin Amash of Grand Rapids. Amash won by 10 points.

Self-funding won’t be an issue in the sprawling 1st District, where twoterm Representative Dan Benishek (R-Iron River) will face Jerry Cannon of Fife Lake, former Kalkaska County sheriff, who was a Michigan National Guard major general after serving as a Marine in Vietnam.

Both parties and their allies will pour in money in a state that has nine Republicans and five Democrats in Congress. The Detroit Free Press said after the primary, “Democrats will look more closely” at the Benishek-Cannon race.

In fact, The Detroit News reports that Bill Ballenger, founder of Inside Michigan Politics newsletter, “argues that the Democrats’ best shot” may be against Benishek. He said: “What’s good is Cannon comes from a law enforcement and military background. That resonates with folks in the 1st.”

As noted here previously, Benishek, a longtime surgeon in the Iron Mountain Veterans Hospital, and Cannon have been speaking out this year on veterans issues, including the enormous problems that have surfaced at the Veterans Affairs Department and led to ouster of Eric Shinseki as VA secretary.

As a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Benishek was involved in the development of the new law signed last week by President Barack Obama that includes expanding the VA staff by hiring thousands of doctors, nurses, and mental health counselors.

At one point during congressional deliberations, Cannon said: “It’s time to reinvent the VA. …We can never do enough for our veterans, but we can always do more.”

Tea Party Mixed Results

After GOP primaries, the national Tea Party Express cited the victories of Amash and Moolenaar, as well as that of two-term U.S. Representative Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas), as its congressional victories of the day.

But the GOP establishment, including Camp and Schuette, and such election powers as the National Rifle Association and Right to Life of Michigan, were more pivotal in Moolenaar’s win.

Two-term Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee prevailed over a tea party challenger.

In Michigan, tea-party affiliated contenders, beyond Congressman Bentivolio’s loss to Trott, had some losses and some wins in legislative races. One social conservative victory was Lee Chatfield’s over 107th District Representative Frank Foster.

Among primary wins, the Michigan League of Conservation Voters cited against a candidate, “fueled” in part by the tea party, was the victory of 104th District Representative Wayne Schmidt of Traverse City over 105th District Representative Greg MacMaster in the Republican primary for the 37th Senate seat.

George Weeks, a member of the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame, for 22 years was the political columnist for The Detroit News and previously with UPI as Lansing bureau chief and foreign editor in Washington. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.

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