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Congressional Primary Races Fill Up For Open Seats

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By Emma Fidel, Associated Press

LANSING (AP) — Four Michigan representatives will exit the U.S. House in January, leaving their congressional seats with wide open races after years of stability.

Democratic Rep. John Dingell and Republican Reps. Mike Rogers and Dave Camp are retiring from Congress. Democratic Rep. Gary Peters is leaving the House to run to replace Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, who’s also retiring. Democrats and Republicans are expected to keep their seats, but primary fights are brewing in all but Dingell’s district. Less than two weeks before the April 22 filing deadline, the fields could get more crowded.

The races in Camp and Rogers’ districts look similar, with a few Republicans declared in each race, many other Republican possibilities and limited Democratic options.

“The fact that there is no credible candidate tells you that the Democrats have done their own research and have determined that it’s highly improbable that a Democrat can win,” said Ed Sarpolus, a nonpartisan political analyst and executive director of Target-Insyght.

Democratic turnout is typically low in midterm election years, and there’s no indication Democratic governor candidate Mark Schauer could draw a wide enough voter margin to combat that trend in Republican-leaning districts, Sarpolus said.

Camp gave potential successors little time to consider running for the 4th District when he said he wouldn’t seek re-election on March 31. He was term-limited as chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, and his decision was somewhat expected. He won with 63 percent of the vote in 2012.

State Sen. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, jumped into the race the next day, and Paul Mitchell, a Saginaw County businessman, announced his bid on Monday. Roscommon County businessman Peter Konetchy had said in July he would challenge Camp for the Republican ticket.

John Barker of Isabella County is the only Democrat who has declared.

Tom Shields, a Republican consultant working on Moolenaar’s campaign, said Mitchell’s wealth “may scare off a bunch of people.” Mitchell has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to conservative causes, according to a statement by his campaign.

Rogers announced just before Camp on March 28 that he would leave his 8th District seat to launch a radio show. He’s opting out despite a boost in his national profile as chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett is running for the Republican ticket against former state Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop, whom Rogers endorsed. Rogers won with 59 percent of the vote in 2012.

Rep. Tom McMillin, R-Rochester Hills, got into the race on Thursday after Sen. Joe Hune, R-Whitmore Lake, said he wouldn’t run. McMillin is term-limited in the House and had been running for state Senate.

“He’s a wild card,” Shields said. “He helps split the vote in Oakland County, but he also has a strong following among the Tea Party activists.”

Sarpolus said state Rep. Gail Haines, R-Lake Angelus, was a potential “dark horse” in the race because she is well-financed and female. Haines’ office didn’t respond to a request for comment on Friday.

Some Democrats hoped Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum would try for the difficult district. But Byrum said Tuesday she wouldn’t run after meeting with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Emily’s List in Washington, D.C.

“While partisan gridlock in Congress prevents anything meaningful from being accomplished, my work here in Michigan has a real effect on people’s lives and that’s what drives my commitment to public service,” Byrum said in a statement.

Byrum’s decision doesn’t change the race much because “a Democrat is handicapped in that seat,” said Democratic consultant Joe DiSano of Main Street Strategies.

Sarpolus said that’s true of both the 8th and the 4th Districts. If President Barack Obama couldn’t win those districts in 2012, “who says a Democrat can win now?” he asked.

Democrats would need someone with high name recognition and a base in Oakland County to be competitive, said Shields, the president of Marketing Resource Group. Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown “could have opened some eyes” if she’d gone for the seat, he said, but Schauer named Brown as his running mate last week.

Ingham County Democrats Susan Grettenberger, a Central Michigan University professor, and Ken Darga, a former state demographer, are the only Democrats running.

“The folks who are running as sacrificial lambs, I have a lot of respect for,” DiSano said. “They’re doing the party’s work in the face of almost certain defeat.”

The party roles reverse in Dingell’s Democratic district, which is the most predictable of the bunch. The longest-serving congressman ever said he was retiring in February. His Democratic wife, Debbie Dingell, quickly got into the race.

State Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, wrote on her Facebook page that she “had an amazing time” exploring a run for the seat, but “there’s unfinished work in the state Capitol, and I am just not ready to let it go.”

Dingell said Friday she has raised more than $500,000 in a little more than a month, and 93 percent of donations came from individuals. Still, she said she’s not a shoo-in, and candidates who think they are “get into trouble.”

Political strategists disagreed. Dingell has “inherited” the seat and it would be “an act of frustration” to run against her, Shields said.

“Debbie Dingell can start measuring the drapes in her congressional office,” DiSano said.

Her endorsements include the Michigan Teamsters and the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council. John Dingell won with 68 percent of the vote in 2012.

Republican Terry Bowman is one of the few who have said they’re taking her on nonetheless. The right-to-work champion and United Auto Workers member is running against the federal health care law that John Dingell helped write.

Democrats also rule the 14th District, which includes half of Detroit. Peters, a Democrat, won with 82 percent of the vote in 2012.

The Democratic primary will be crowded. At least seven candidates have said they’re in. Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence is the front-runner, and state Rep. Rudy Hobbs, D-Southfield, is also a contender.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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