Race for the 11th Congressional District Gets Testy
Voters in Michigan's 11th Congressional District Republican primary have a lot of sorting out to do.
Kerry Bentivolio, the only candidate whose name is on the Aug. 7 ballot, is accused of being so extreme that some Republicans who have previously been labeled as far right themselves are worried about how he'd represent the district. Some of those with that opinion are supporting a write-in campaign for former State Senator Nancy Cassis.
One of the Cassis supporters is Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson.
"I went to his (Bentivolio's) website and found that he was very extreme on several issues. Basically, he's Ron Paul on steroids," Patterson told Capitol Confidential. "I don't believe that his positions represent most Michigan Republicans. According to the polls they don't.
“After seeing what Bentivolio's positions are, to me, Nancy is the logical choice," Patterson said. "We don't want to lose this seat to the Democrats — and we could risk that if we have the wrong nominee."
Bentivolio says he's being attacked by Republican Party insiders and career politicians because they don't want someone sent to Washington, D.C. who they can't control.
"I expected to be attacked by the Democrats with lies and distortions," Bentivolio told Capitol Confidential. "But I didn't expect these kinds of insults and lies from Republicans. I said I'd like to take some of our American troops out of Germany and deploy them along our border with Mexico. They (his opponents) took it out of context and twisted it to make it fit the way they wanted it to sound."
Bentivolio has, however, given his adversaries a lot of fodder with which to work. His reputation as a "Ron Paul Republican" could be a potential political liability even with Republican primary voters, including tea partyers.
As the presidential primary race played out in the winter and spring, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, never attracted significant portions of tea party support. Many attributed this to Rep. Paul's views on foreign policy.
According to news accounts, the Liberty for All Super PAC, which has ties to Rep. Paul, has spent $117,579 on robo calls and mailers for Bentivolio and bought more than $200,000 in air time for a commercial supporting Bentivolio.
But Bentivolio's foreign policy views don't mirror those of Rep. Paul.
"I support the 1954 U.S.-Israel agreement. I believe we should support Israel," he said. "I am not an isolationist. However, I am not an interventionist either. I don't agree with Ron Paul on everything, but I do think a lot of what he has had to say regarding foreign policy is interesting."
Bentivolio is a former Milford teacher with a varied and extensive education background. He served in Vietnam as an infantry rifleman from 1970-71. He also served in Iraq in 2007 at age 56. Most regular news media articles play up his work as a part-time farmer who raises reindeer to be used to pull Santa's sleigh during holiday parades.
"Actually, I'm just a typical middle-class guy," Bentivolio said. "To me, if I can teach history to 150 students and wade through our Constitution so they understand how important it is — which I have done — that's one of my qualifications to serve in Congress."
Among the more beneficial endorsements Bentivolio has received to back up his claim that he's not a Ron Paul clone is that of Republican National Committeeman and State Rep. Dave Agema, R-Grandville. Rep. Agema is perhaps best known for his continuing opposition to illegal immigration and his opposition to the recognition of gay marriage. Rep. Agema also repeatedly expresses concerns about lax U.S. security.
On the other side of the coin, Bentivolio is saddled with the legacy of his brief film career. He played a role as a surgeon in a movie titled, "The President Goes To Heaven," that was released in 2011. Part of the movie dialogue suggests (or parodies the premise) that former President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney ordered the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The Cassis campaign has repeatedly attacked Bentivolio over his connection with the movie.
"We were given the scripts five minutes before we started shooting," Bentivolio said. "I did the movie so I could get more used to being in front of a camera. I didn't know about everything that was in the movie. I just played my part. I do not believe that President Bush and Dick Cheney were behind the 9/11 attacks. I completely reject all of that stuff. George Bush was my commander-in-chief when I was in Iraq."
Bentivolio said the premise of the movie was that a president dies, goes to heaven and returns a better person as a result of the experience.
"I'm so tired of their assaults and lies," Bentivolio said of his opponents. "It's not only an insult to imply the things they're implying, it's ridiculous. I didn't know the political in-crowd would go this far to try to prevent someone from going to Washington who would think for himself."
Dennis Pittman, executive director of the Oakland County Republican Party, said the county party is not taking sides in the primary.
"We have put up campaign signs for both candidates here at party headquarters," Pittman said. "We have strong bylaws that say we can only get involved in these primary races under very extreme circumstances. I've known Kerry (Bentivolio) for probably about three years. I like the guy. But we are totally neutral. We have to be."
Steve Mitchell, of East Lansing-based Mitchell Research, said those backing the Cassis write-in campaign could be defined as party leaders or party insiders, depending on the point of view.
"Bentivolio's campaign will call them party insiders and the Cassis campaign will call them party leaders," Mitchell said. "There's no secret about who is involved. There was a well-publicized meeting that Brooks Patterson and others attended. The concern was that Bentivolio was too far out of the mainstream. The 11th is a Republican-leaning district, but it might not be won by the Republicans if Bentivolio gets the nomination and is later viewed as too extreme."
The 11th Congressional District was redrawn in 2010 and covers portions of Western Wayne County and Oakland County. Thaddeus McCotter would have been the incumbent running for re-election but he botched the required signature gathering requirement and then later resigned from office in early July.
Rev. Drexel Morton of Canton also is running a write-in campaign in the Republican primary.