Flood Gates Open In Race For Bart Stupak's Seat And Money Pours In

At first glance, the race for retiring Democrat Bart Stupak's seat in the Michigan 1st Congressional District, pits pro-gun, pro-life Democrat Representative Gary McDowell, against pro-life, pro-gun Republican candidate Dr. Dan Benishek. Behind the scenes, the national Democratic and Republican parties are grappling mightily for a hotly contested seat. As I wrote in a previous post, in recent weeks, the race has turned nasty--with the Republican and Democratic candidates' camps challenging the veracity of the opposition's television advertisements.

In early October, Representative Gary McDowell picked up an endorsement from the NRA, one of only a handful of Democrats nationally to earn the group's support. Incumbent Bart Stupak endorsed McDowell, as well.

On October 11, 2010 Dr. Benishek picked up the endorsement of the Detroit News. Prior to the paper's endorsement, the News had published very little about the race for the Michigan 1st Congressional District race. A few hours after that endorsement was posted to the paper's web site, Benishek picked up another endorsement. Sarah Palin posted the following to her Facebook page:

Dan Benishek for Congress in Michigan

There's a lot of talk about the race in Michigan's 1st Congressional District. Dr. Dan Benishek is the kind of commonsense voice we need in Washington to replace the retiring Bart Stupak. As a physician, he understands why Obamacare must be repealed and replaced with true health care reform. Dan is determined to work to get our country's fiscal house in order. As a self-described "hunter and fisherman and proud member of the NRA," he's great for Michigan 1st District, which like Alaska, is home to outdoor enthusiasts who love their hunting and fishing. Please visit Dan's website at and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

In response to a question about whether the Palin endorsement would have a significant impact on the race in the Michigan 1st, Trent Benishek, press secretary for the campaign, wrote in an email message: "Dr. Benishek was honored to receive the endorsement of [former] Governor Palin, who is an influential political figure." By phone, Trent Benishek elaborated a bit. "People relate to her," he said. To date, according to Trent Benishek, the campaign has had no contact with Palin's camp, and he says there are no plans to pay Palin to make one of her $100,000 campaign stump speeches in the Michigan 1st.

When asked about the potential impact of the Detroit News endorsement on his race, Michigan state Representative Gary McDowell commented through spokesman Nick Choate: "It's certainly no surprise that they [the Detroit News] endorsed the Republican candidates in all of Michigan's competitive congressional races." As for the Palin endorsement Choate wrote in an email, "It's no wonder Dan Benishek's out of touch positions...are earning him praise among extremists and political insiders, but his positions will hurt northern Michigan."

One day after the endorsements from the Detroit News and Sarah Palin, independent filing records from the FEC showed that the DCCC signed off on a $207,900 media buy using DC-based political communications heavy hitter GMMB. To date, according to FEC filings, the DCCC has spent $762,884.62 against Dan Benishek, and the NRCC has spent a total of $613,196.60 against Representative Gary McDowell.

When asked if the Detroit News endorsement of the Republican candidate in the Michigan 1st might cause the DCCC to pull back spending in the race, Gabby Adler, a DCCC Regional Press Secretary said, "Absolutely not. We think Gary McDowell is a very good candidate who has a great chance to win." As of October 13th, Adler said the DCCC had made "no adjustments at all" in media reservations made for the race, and that the DCCC expects to spend a total of $1,171,544 in the Michigan 1st by election day.

An October 13, 2010 Detroit Free Press poll shows that a slim margin of just 3 percentage points separates the two candidates, with Benishek in the lead.