Four Democrats are fighting to be their party’s candidate for the congressional seat held by U.S. Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, whom the Capitol Hill tabloid Roll Call estimates has at least a 50 percent chance of not being re-elected.
While Bentivolio of Milford tries to fend off a well-financed challenge from Farmington Hills attorney David Trott in the Aug. 5 Republican primary election, Inside Michigan Politics Associate Editor Bill Ballenger says “credible” Democratic candidates have emerged for a fall face-off with the winner — though none has held elective office.
The four candidates are ex-U.S. State Department counter-terrorism staffer Bobby McKenzie, ex-talk show host Nancy Skinner, urologist Anil Kumar and political activist Bill Roberts.
The 11th Congressional District was redrawn after the 2010 federal census to make it more Republican — almost 56 percent now — which likely discouraged Democratic elected officeholders from seeking this seat, Ballenger said. From Canton north to White Lake, stretching eastward and then dipping south again to include Auburn Hills and Troy, it doesn’t include Pontiac.
Former U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter held the seat until nominating petition problems knocked him out of a 2012 re-election bid and led to Bentivolio’s election.
“They jacked this district up for McCotter before he disintegrated,” Ballenger said. . “I could see Democrats saying, ‘We’ve got shot at this thing.”
McKenzie, 39, said “a range of individuals,” who included top party officials, encouraged him to run. In October, he left his job as a senior State Department adviser to return to Canton and campaign full-time.
“I’m going to have to outwork and out-think my opponents,” he said. “I’m a Democrat, but I’m an independent thinker. ... (Too much partisanship) is part of problem we have in Congress right now.”
He has endorsements from Democratic U.S. Rep. John Dingell of Dearborn, former Gov. James Blanchard and a number of labor groups that include the Michigan AFL-CIO and National Education Association.
Asked about the immigration crisis, McKenzie said Congress and the president should pursue policies that include securing borders, penalizing companies that hire illegal immigrants under the table and working with South American governments to “make sure they don’t have a set of actors who are contributing to this.”
“The U.S. doesn’t have the capacity to take in every person in the world who’s living in grinding poverty,” he said.
McKenzie said comprehensive reform also should provide a path to citizenship for 10 million to 30 million illegal immigrants living in the country. Rather than “one size fits all,” it should vary according to circumstances, he said.
Kumar has loaned his campaign more than $700,000, according to finance reports and analysis, and has advertised more heavily than the other candidates — something he believes would help him in the fall.
“I’m starting with a lot of my own money,” he said. “I have associates and friends who have the ability to fund. They say, ‘Get through the primary, and we will give you the money you need.’”
The Bloomfield Township resident has been active on state and county medical society boards. He was interim CEO of Doctors Hospital of Michigan, which has gone through financial struggles.
He counts himself as a small businessman because he has 30 employees in his practice, owns an outpatient surgical center and is an investor in the hospital.
At 63, he said, “I’m young enough to have the energy and old enough to retire. I feel I have all this experience, knowledge and education and I want to give back. I really do love this country.”
Kumar shares McKenzie’s views about closing the borders to illegal immigrants and blocking businesses from hiring them. He said, however, that visas should be made available to people who want to come to the United States for work that doesn’t attract applicants who are citizens.
“America has been built on the brains and brawn of immigrants,” Kumar said. “Legal immigration is an absolute must. America and other Western nations will not be able to sustain populations (with current birth rates). They need good, healthy people to come from other countries.”
Skinner, a 49-year-old entrepreneur, gave ex-U.S. Rep. Joe Knollenberg a re-election fight in 2006 before Democrat Gary Peters won the seat in 2008. She was rated a long shot against the 14-year Republican incumbent before losing 52 percent to 46 percent.
In 2004, she lived in Illinois and was a Democratic candidate for an open U.S. Senate seat, losing in the primary to then-state Sen. Barack Obama.
Kumar and McKenzie outraised Skinner, who now lives in Birmingham, by more than 45-1 in the second quarter ending June 30, but she is banking on a platform that focuses on the economy and energy, protecting the Great Lakes and women’s rights.
She said she is passionate about equal pay for women and reproductive rights. Skinner also noted 53 percent of the U.S. electorate is female, yet women make up 18 percent of Congress.
“There is a war on women,” Skinner said. “By and large, we are not going to progress — women and our issues — until that balance of representation is fixed.”
The Royal Oak native is a former syndicated radio host and TV commentator and opened Troy-based Nextwave Media Studios. She is endorsed by Between the Lines, the oldest and largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender newspaper in Michigan, and Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner Jim Nash.
By contrast, Bill Roberts advocates the impeachment of President Obama. Roberts, 34, lives in Livonia and lost in the district’s 2012 Democratic primary in 2012 to Dr. Syed Taj.
On his web page, Roberts says he became a full-time activist in the LaRouche political movement in 2005. Its namesake is Lyndon LaRouche Jr., a controversial theorist who ran as a presidential candidate from 1976 to 2004 for his own U.S. Labor Party or the Democratic nomination.