The First Congressional District of Michigan is big.
Bigger than the State of West Virginia. Bigger than nine other States as well,the First District includes the Upper Peninsula and the Northeastern part of the mitten on a line roughly from Traverse City to Midland.
Thirty counties. 662,563 people. More than the population of Wyoming. Or Vermont. Or North Dakota.
A district which suddenly became a national battleground over the issue of health care. When the incumbent Congressman, Bart Stupak, a pro-life,Blue Dog Democrat, after holding Obama Care hostage over its liberal abortion language, gave in to high level political pressure and voted with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the excrement hit the rotary blades.
Stupak’s unknown Republican challenger, Iron River surgeon Dan Benishek, received $50,000 in contributions within 48 hours. The battle for Michigan First became network news.
Bart Stupak decided to return to private life.
Enter Gary McDowell, a fifty-eight year old State Representative from Chippawa County. With none of Stupak’s baggage, McDowell became the Democratic nominee.
He didn’t vote for Obama Care, and never mentions it on his web site.
His well funded, professionally designed campaign focuses on local issues; the environment, the Great Lakes and jobs.
His strategy is simple. The district is traditionally Democratic. Unless there are urgent issues to overcome voting habits, the seat will go Democrat.
Keep the focus local. Make it man against man, Party against Party, and McDowell wins.
The Republicans are energized. They’re working hard. They will get their people out on November 2nd.
The Tea Party folks who came out of the woodwork to bolster Benishek are still vocal in his support.
But Obama Care, the politics of wheeling and dealing inside the Washington D.C. Beltway, and the public disgust with and distrust of incumbents which motivated so many people to get off the sofa and get involved were neutralized by the fact that neither McDowell or Benishek were sitting Congressmen.
So the voters have a choice between two newcomers to federal elective office: a State Representative from Chippawa or a surgeon from Iron River.
Ask either man why they are seeking election and you will get an answer which reflects their campaign theme, their narrative, their ideas about how to advance the common good.
Their differences on the issues are published for all to see.
What doesn’t get mentioned is motive. There’s a difference between reasons and motives.
Benishek’s motives are subtle. Why does a successful surgeon who makes over $250,000 per year want to close down his practice, spend thousands of dollars of his own money and work day and night to become a Congressman?
Certainly his knowledge of what is really involved in the practice of medicine has to bolster his determination to unravel the complex and unpopular new national health care legislation.
And his background in private practice suggests that he understands the dynamics of the free enterprise system.
It’s not difficult to accept the assertion that he is running because he wants to turn back the trend toward national socialism which has marked the initiatives of the current administration in Washington.
McDowell’s motives are more obvious. He is a career politician. First elected to the Chippawa County Board of Commissioners in 1981, he has held elective public office for the last 29 years.
He was elected to the Michigan House of representatives in 2004, 2006, and 2008. Under the Michigan term limits amendment, he is ineligible to run for reelection in 2010.
So Representative McDowell has to run for something else, if he is to continue his political career.
His current salary as a State Representrative is $79,650.
The salary of a Member of the United States Congress is $174,000.
His decision to run for Congress was a no-brainer.
So there is it. The choice for the voters in Michigan’s First Congressional District is between a career politician, asking the voters for a $94,350 raise and a successful local surgeon who is willing to give up his practice and go to Washington to represent the people of the district.
If the Tea Party really means anything, it ought to mean a victory for Doctor Benishek.