Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
July 22, 2014

Bentivolio Gets Primary Challenger in Michigan | #MI11

Republican Rep. Kerry Bentivolio of Michigan officially has a primary on his hands.

Attorney David Trott announced Wednesday morning his primary challenge against Bentivolio, a freshman who won his first term amid the chaos created when former Republican Rep. Thaddeus McCotter abruptly resigned from Congress in 2012.

Trott’s announcement came in the form of an email to supporters and made no mention of the 11th District’s incumbent.

“It’s time we fix Washington and send a leader there who will bring the best people and the best ideas from our communities together to advance our freedom-loving agenda — A leader with a proven record of job creation and problem-solving abilities — A leader with the integrity and commitment to help the district and its residents,” he wrote.

Bentivolio has gained attention on the national scene in recent weeks after advocating for the impeachment of President Barack Obama. He is mostly known in Congress for his background in reindeer ranching.

“The congressman is focused on bringing jobs to Michigan, fighting back against Obamacare, balancing our budget and getting our debt under control,” his campaign spokesman Matt Chisholm emailed in reaction to Trott’s announcement.

“Those are the issues he ran on, and those are the issues he is working on. He will continue working hard for the good people of the 11th district,” he added.

The Trott announcement comes as no surprise to political observers. Michigan Republicans mentioned Trott as a primary threat as early as last December, even before Bentivolio was sworn in.

Michigan and national Republicans say Trott has both the personal finances and political connections to mount a serious campaign. Bentivolio, despite his incumbent status, struggled over the past year to put together an organized re-election effort. He raised $65,000 in the most recent fundraising quarter and his previous reporting period was even worse.

But Chisholm told CQ Roll Call that Bentivolio has stepped up his fundraising in the third quarter. Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin have made or will make fundraising stops for Bentivolio this recess period.

“He’s new to electoral process and he’s getting better with fundraising,” Chisholm said in a separate interview last week. “And he has great grass-roots support back home.”

Bentivolio’s vulnerability is overstated, Chisholm said. “The boss being in trouble, that’s a creation of the Washington media and it’s not representative of the organic reality. He’s going to have a good quarter,” Chisholm said. “And he he has a wide array of support from grass roots back home and people like Paul Ryan.”

National Democrats say they agree with Chisholm, at least when it comes to the primary. They are betting that Bentivolio will win the GOP nomination and are eager to face him in the fall. They point to the support of House GOP leadership as a sign of his primary strength.

“It is our expectation that even though he has a primary, it will be more of a distraction than any critical threat,” a national Democratic operative said.

But state and national Republicans scoff at the notion that this is a competitive seat. Romney won the district in 2012 by five points but President Barack Obama narrowly carried it in 2008.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee must pick up 17 seats this cycle to win control of the House. Given the small number of competitive seats, the DCCC has made it plain it will play in seats normally considered GOP strongholds in hopes of shaking loose districts not normally accustomed to seeing competitive races.

Michigan’s 11th is one of those places. Democrats are actively recruiting there, but no names have surfaced as potential candidates. The tone coming out of Democratic sources is that they will play for this seat regardless of who becomes the nominee.

But they make it clear that they hope it will be Bentivolio.

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