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Themes from a primary

Last week’s primary election revealed two common themes among some Michigan congressional candidates, one on the Republican side, one on the Democratic side.

Among the Republicans were three rich candidates who each sought to buy a seat in the House by largely self-financing their campaigns.

The only one of these candidates who was successful was foreclosure lawyer David Trott, an establishment conservative who, as of June 30, had raised $2.4 million of his $3.4 million in campaign funds out of his own wallet in his 11th District race.

Trott had a weak opponent in Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-Milford), a Tea Party extremist and accidental congressman, elected in 2012 after former Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Livonia) was kicked off the primary ballot for fraudulent nominating petition signatures. Trott was also helped by enthusiastic support from the Oakland County Republican Party establishment and the absence from the campaign trail of Bentivolio, who doesn’t know how to campaign. As a result, Trott creamed Bentivolio by a vote of 42,009 (66 percent) to 21,252 (34 percent).

In the Grand Rapids-based 3rd District, another race between a Tea Party incumbent and establishment conservative challenger produced a different result. Brian Ellis, a businessman, reportedly spent $1 million of his own money in an attempt to unseat Rep. Justin Amash (R-Cascade Township). But Amash, now in his second term, raised more money, displayed better campaigning skills and had compiled an independent voting record in Congress. He defeated Ellis by a solid margin of 39,706 (57 percent) to 29,422 (43 percent).

The 4th District seat opened up when Rep. Dave Camp (R-Midland) announced his retirement, and retired businessman Paul Mitchell tried to buy the seat by spending $5 million of his vast fortune. But he failed to even come close against state Sen. John Moolenaar (R-Midland), losing by a margin of 34,401 (53 percent) to 23,844 (36 percent). The third candidate, Peter Konetchy, received 7,408 votes (11 percent).

Among the Democrats were two candidates that Rep. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Township), now the Democratic Senate candidate, had previously pushed aside to get elected to the House.

In 2006, Nancy Skinner, a radio talk show host, ran against Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-Bloomfield Hills) in the 9th District. Knollenberg had won seven terms by comfortable margins. But Skinner gave him a close race, losing by a 51 to 46 percent margin.

With Knollenberg looking vulnerable, Skinner decided to try again in 2008. Only this time around, she had to get past Peters, state lottery commissioner and a former state senator, who looked like a stronger candidate. Skinner was unable to compete with Peters in fundraising and withdrew from the primary. Peters went on to defeat Knollenberg by 52 to 43 percent.

In 2010, Hansen Clarke, a term-limited state senator from Detroit, took on Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D-Detroit), mother of disgraced former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, in the 13th District primary. He defeated her by 47 to 41 percent, which was tantamount to election in this safe Democratic district.

Peters’ 9th District was carved up in the 2012 redistricting as part of a Republican gerrymander. The most Democratic voting parts of his old district went to the safely Democratic 14th District, a large chunk of which was already represented by Clarke. Peters defeated Clarke in the primary by a 47 to 35 percent margin.

Both Skinner and Clarke decided to run again for Congress in this year’s primary, Skinner in the 11th District and Clarke again in the 14th District. But both entered their races late, jumping in just before the filing deadline. Each also faced two serious candidates who had been running for months. In the 11th District, there was Bobby McKenzie, a former State Department counterterrorism expert and CIA analyst, and Anil Kumar, a physician. In the 14th District, the other contenders were Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence and state Rep. Rudy Hobbs (D-Southfield).

Because of their late starts, both Skinner and Clarke lagged far behind their opponents in both fundraising and campaign organization. It was therefore no surprise that both finished in third place.

McKenzie won in the 11th District with 13,442 votes (34 percent), compared to Kumar with 12,476 (32 percent) and Skinner, 10,370 (27 percent). The fourth candidate, Bill Roberts, a follower of conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche, received 2,905 votes (7 percent).

In the 14th District, Lawrence won with 26,400 votes (36 percent), followed by Hobbs, 24,007 (32 percent) and Clarke, 22,869 (31 percent). The remaining candidate, Burgess Foster, received 830 votes (1 percent).

With her election on Nov. 4 a virtual certainty, Lawrence will be successful in her fourth try for higher office. She finished third in the 2012 primary with 13 percent after losing races for Oakland County executive in 2008 and lieutenant governor in 2010.