Will Prophetic Paul the Octopus Now Predict Pols?

Who’s No.1 In Michigan-1?

Although there are three U.S. House districts in Michigan in which incumbent congressmen are retiring, the nomination fight that attracts the most press attention is the one among Republicans for the 1st District seat. 

The district itself is distinctive.  As the Almanac of American Politics notes,” It is a 490-mile drive from Ironwood at the Western end of the [district] to the edge of Bay City on the Southern tip of Saginaw Bay.” 

For the most part, the attention to the race this year is due to the congressman who is retiring after 18 years:  Democrat Bart Stupak, who gained national attention earlier this year for the amendment bearing his name that was to bar federal funds from going for abortion under the Democrat-backed healthcare bill.  After insisting as late as two days before the vote that he would not support the measure unless his amendment was included, Stupak (lifetime American Conservative Union rating:  21%) suddenly caved on the day of the vote and voted” aye” on Obamacare.

He changed, Stupak weakly explained, because the same ban on tax dollars for abortion would be accomplished by an executive order promised by the President—something that the U.S. bishops of Stupak’s own Roman Catholic Church as well as every major pro-life group maintained was not so.

To no one’s surprise, Stupak announced his retirement about a week after his controversial shift paved the way for enough pro-life Democratic members to vote to put Obamacare over the top in the House.

Democrats in the 1st District have settled on State Rep. Gary McDowell as their candidate.  Local observers say that McDowell, a former UPS driver whose legislative district bookends the Mackinac Bridge, is a “centrist” Democrat in the mold of Stupak—pro-labor and pro-family.  But in large part because the incumbent is so disliked and distrusted by cultural conservatives, the consensus is that “another Stupak” won’t sell in 2010.

So the six-candidate Republican primary August 3 is increasingly considered tantamount to election in the 1st District.  The district sent a Republican to the House with one exception in 1964 from the end of World War II until Stupak’s initial election in 1992.  Of the six GOPers running this year, three—all of whom are strong conservatives—are considered top contenders, but it is not yet at all clear which of them is likely to emerge on top.

Different Flavors of Conservatives

If endorsements from key groups and party leaders could determine the Republican primary outcome, State Sen. Jason Allen would have the nomination in his back pocket.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Allen is backed by more elected Republicans than any opponent and is endorsed by groups ranging from the Michigan Chamber of Commerce to the Michigan Farm Bureau and the Restaurant Association.  In addition, Allen has a strong following among cultural conservatives in the Water Wonderland.

I caught up with Allen as he was blitzing the sprawling district in his car along with fellow State Sen. Alan Cropsey, widely considered the most conservative member of the state legislature. 

“If you check my record—particularly my record on taxes and spending and the way I fought to preserve the secret ballot in union elections—you’ll find I’m a conservative who will also be an activist,” Allen told me, also citing his background helping to run his family’s clothing store.

As to the charge of opportunism stemming from his move from neighboring Traverse County into the 1st District after Stupak announced his retirement, Allen insisted this “has not been an issue.  Six of the counties in my senate district are in the 1st District and that’s about 210,000 voters out of 650,000.”

But physician Dan Benishek is trying to make Allen’s move an issue.  When I asked him what the chief difference was between him and Allen, Benishek told me:  “I’ve always lived in the district, right here in Iron River, in the UP [Upper Peninsula, which comprises about 60% of the 1st District].  I just didn’t move here to run.”

The 58-year-old surgeon has been popular at Tea Party meetings with what he calls the “Four R’s”:  Read it (legislation), reduce it (government spending), repeal it (Obamacare), and reform it (the size of government).

Benishek also noted that he was in the race to oppose Stupak before the congressman opted out and that he has more than $250,000 in his campaign kitty going into August.

The third major GOP contender is businessman Patrick Donlon, political newcomer Having started his own company refurbishing barns, Donlon is well connected in the business community throughout the 31-county district.  Moreover, in a district with a large number of Roman Catholics, Donlon is a longtime leader in the area Knights of Columbus.

The race is complicated by the fact that there is no major media outlet in the district, so the winner of the all-important GOP primary could well be the candidate who wears out the most shoe leather. 

Will Prophetic Paul Now Predict Pols?

As just about everyone now knows, the biggest winner in the soccer World Cup aside from victorious Spain was Paul the Octopus.  Throughout the soccer competition, Paul, who lives in an aquarium in Oberhausen, Germany, caught the world’s attention with the predictions he made by choosing between two pails of mussels, each of them decorated with a flag from a country competing in the match. 

In the six contests leading up to Spain’s triumph over the Netherlands last week, Paul was proven an amazing prophet every time by opening the pail with the flag of the eventual winner of the match two days later.  (When Paul picked Spain over his native Germany in the semi-finals, security at the aquarium was increased because of death threats and angry fans’ mailing recipes for cooking octopus.  Germany ended up losing to Spain).

“We want to make Paul an honorary citizen of Spain!” explained my fellow White House correspondent, Macarena Vidal of EFE (Spanish Radio) to me on the Monday after her country’s victory.  But other reporters who cover American politics have something else in mind:  letting Paul call the results of the U.S. midterm elections this fall.  My fellow watchers of all things political in America envision Paul’s choosing from a pail bearing either ran elephant or a donkey, days before the balloting this November.

So far, the only word from the aquarium is that, after six correct predictions in the World Cup, Paul is “retired” (although a cartoon image of him has surfaced as a popular i-Phone character).  As Michael Barone of the Almanac of American Politics commented on the speculation, “Paul may be able to do better than many of us psephological predictors.” 

Changing Times in Alabama

It wasn’t so long ago that Republican nominations in Alabama were done by small caucuses of party leaders and it was only in the 1970s that primaries and run-offs were initiated for the GOP.  All that is ancient history and, more often than not, crowded primaries are held, no candidate wins the 50% -plus-one needed for nomination, and there is a run-off.

Last week, State Rep. Robert Bentley, a favorite of Tea Party activists and evangelical conservatives, won the GOP runoff for governor.  Bentley, a physician, defeated former college chancellor and “establishment” favorite Bradley Byrne by 56% to 44%. 

Bentley is now a strong favorite over the Democratic nominee, State Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks, to succeed lame-duck GOP Gov. Bob Riley. 

In Alabama’s 2nd District, it was the “establishment” favorite who emerged with the nomination for Congress.  Montgomery City Councilman Martha Roby won by a 3-to-2 margin over Marine Corps veteran Rick Barber and will face freshman Democratic Rep. Bobby Bright.