A candidate who plays Santa Claus at Christmas events and actually raises reindeer won the Republican nomination in Michigan’s 11th District (Wayne-Oakland Counties) Tuesday night. Near-final results showed 60-year-old Kerry Bentivolio, an area leader in Ron Paul’s presidential campaign, winning more than 60 percent of the vote over Nancy Cassis, former state senator who ran as a write-in candidate.
One could almost call Bentivolio’s unusual political saga a true-to-life version of the late Fletcher Knebel’s classic novel“Dark Horse,” about a plain-spoken New Jersey highway commissioner who is given the Republican nomination for president when the nominee suddenly dies. With the sudden and surprising retirement of six-term GOP Rep. Thad McCotter in June, Bentivolio — who was also a U.S. Army veteran of Vietnam and Desert Storm — was the lone candidate left on the ballot in this heavily Republican district. He was running on a platform of abolishing the income tax and Department of Education and getting the U.S. out of the United Nations and International Monetary Fund.
Obviously alarmed at the thought of a Paul man being their nominee, local GOP leaders rallied behind the 68-year-old Cassis. But because the filing deadline for the primary ballot had passed by the time of McCotter’s June 2 exit, former State Sen. and State Rep. Cassis could only run as a write-in candidate. Her campaign materials read: “Nothin’ Fancy. Just write-in Nancy,” and she spent more than $200,000 of her own money on the late-starting campaign.
But here was her major downfall and stumbling block: the last EPIC-MRA poll before the vote showed Cassis defeating Bentivolio by a margin of 55 to 38 percent among likely primary voters. Since a write-in vote is difficult in Michigan, it involves writing in the name as well as shading in an oval spot on the ballot, Bentivolio prevailed—and did so rather handily.
He had some high-octane support. Veteran GOP consultant John Yob ran his campaign. Liberty for All, the super PAC of fellow Paul supporter and Texas multimillionaire John Ramsey, spent an estimated $300,000 on mailings and TV broadsides slamming Cassis for her support in the legislature of the Michigan Business Tax, which has since been repealed. A final mailing by Liberty for All linked Cassis to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and charged both wanted to raise taxes.
There was some talk that Democrat Sayed Taj, a Canton Township physician, might overnight become a serious contender in this strongly Republican district because of the Republican candidate’s “outsider” pedigree — perhaps. But in the victory of Kerry Bentivolio, one sees the latest step in an intriguing pattern of “outsider” candidates winning GOP nominations for the House — from Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh, who once faced foreclosure on his home, to former Texas Rep. Steve Stockman, who once declared bankrupcy and is now the GOP nominee in a new Houston-area district, to Navy Reservist James Bridenstine, who came out of nowhere to knock off 12-year Rep. John Sullivan in the Oklahoma 1 primary. The closest one can find to this trend of genuine outsiders is the Great Depression, when a number of unemployed laborers were elected to Congress as Democrats. It is a pattern that bears watching.