June 4, 2012 at 1:00 am

McCotter departure shakes up GOP race

Unwilling to concede to unknown, some consider write-in bids

McCotter )

In the once-a-decade redrawing of congressional districts, it was U.S. Rep. Thad McCotter who got the biggest prize.

The 11th Congressional District, once split between Republicans and Democrats in presidential voting, picked up larger swathes of Oakland County in maps penned by the GOP-controlled Legislature. The result: an 11th District seat that now tipped 4 percentage points to the GOP, according to Republican data, a district shored up for McCotter for a decade to come.

But a win on a silver platter turned into a case of political chaos when McCotter decided Saturday to end his decade-long tenure in Congress following a petition fraud scandal.

With no incumbent on the ballot in the Aug. 7 primary, the 11th District is poised for costly, tumultuous and unpredictable changing of the guard. The general election matchup could well be between a Republican political newcomer who raises reindeer and a Democrat who wants to impeach President Obama.

It's a "political earthquake in the politics of Wayne and Oakland counties and the aftershocks continue," said Paul Welday, a Farmington Hills political consultant and former 2010 GOP congressional candidate.

"We still don't know what is going to be left standing once we pick through the rubble."

Welday, former chief of staff of U.S. Rep. Joe Knollenberg, is among the Republicans who are mulling a write-in campaign for the seat. Former state Sen. Loren Bennett, R-Canton Township, has launched his campaign.

Other GOP politicians are toying with write-in campaigns, too, uncomfortable with conceding the nomination to political unknown Kerry Bentivolio, the only GOP candidate on the ballot. He's a teacher and tea party enthusiast who raises reindeer and plays Santa.

It remains to be seen whether the party will unite around one candidate, preventing multiple write-in wars. Absentee ballots will be mailed to voters in the 11th District in a matter of weeks.

The National Republican Congressional Committee was willing to help McCotter with his write-in effort, a costly and steep challenge requiring plenty of voter education to not only get voters to the polls, but to write a name on a ballot.

The national committee found itself in an odd place of trying to rescue one of its members who had openly thumbed his nose at meeting his fundraising obligations. "Until you can shoot me and send my family to Siberia, I don't really care," McCotter said last year when a leaked NRCC memo showed McCotter was nearly $500,000 behind in raising money. "I work for my constituents, not House leadership."

House members who don't pony up their assigned level of "dues" can be denied NRCC services during their re-election campaign. U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, the NRCC chairman, said the committee would help McCotter but not without strings attached.McCotter's campaign would have to meet benchmarks for organizing, and the committee would help him fundraise, but not bankroll, the write-in campaign, said an NRCC spokeswoman.

McCotter said Saturday he's dropping his re-election bid to focus on his waning days in Congress and aiding the attorney general in the criminal investigation of fraudulent petition signatures, which he said he trusted his longtime staff to handle and knew nothing about.

"One can't clean up a mess multitasking,' McCotter said Saturday.

The NRCC and other local party leaders believe the new 11th District seat was drawn in such a way that it will remain Republican without McCotter on the ballot. Bentivolio, inspired by the tea party and liberty movement, said he supports cutting excessive borrowing and improving government accountability and veterans services. He entered the race to make a point about too much government spending.

Bentivolio said he hopes to unite, not splinter, the GOP around his candidacy. "I'm here to rebuild the Republican Party," he said.

With McCotter out, national Democrats are eyeing a seat that once was off the radar.

In the Democratic primary, Dr. Syed Taj, an internist and Canton Township trustee who has support of the local Democratic Party groups, believed he was the only Democrat on the Aug. 7 ballot. But Bill Roberts, a LaRouche Democrat who wants to impeach President Obama for what Roberts said are repeated violations of the Constitution, stunned Taj when made the ballot with enough signatures.

Shifting gears quickly, Taj has set aside campaign brochures attacking McCotter as a career politician and has printed new ones warning that Roberts is a "fake Democrat."

Taj's literature is typical of attacks by Obama Democrats against Lyndon LaRouche supporters, Roberts said.

"The idea you have to take a loyalty oath to the president in order to be a candidate is ridiculous," Roberts said. Obama, he said, "represents a clear and present danger to the nation."

While McCotter's retirement may increase Taj's chances of becoming a U.S. representative, Taj said he must remain focused on winning the primary and explaining Roberts' platform. But he worries that voters picking a Democrat in the race may be more drawn to a name like "William Roberts" over "Syed Taj."

"I'm not na´ve about that," he said.

mschultz@detnews.com

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