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Doctor pumps $750K into long-shot bid for 11th District

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Dr. Anil Kumar is pumping hundreds of thousands of his own dollars into a long-shot bid to unseat freshman Republican Rep. David Trott in a race that outside groups appear to have written off.

Kumar, a Bloomfield Hills Democrat and chief of surgery at Crittenton Hospital, had loaned his campaign $750,000 through Oct. 19. But Trott maintained a $1.2 million to $1.1 million lead in total fundraising for the two-year cycle, according to federal records.

Despite the self-funding, few experts see the 65-year-old defeating Trott, a wealthy Birmingham attorney who could tap into his own piggy bank if needed, as he did in 2014.

“I just find it hard to believe Trott is going to be in any trouble there,” said longtime Michigan political pundit Bill Ballenger, “but stranger things have happened.”

Democrats suspect Kumar could benefit if Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump turns off some of the district’s more affluent and educated voters, prompting them to stay home or decline to support the incumbent.

The 11th District includes parts of Oakland and western Wayne counties, including the population centers of Livonia, Canton Township, Troy, Waterford, Rochester and West Bloomfield.

The 56-year-old Trott touts his constituent service and counts among his proudest congressional moments a letter he spearheaded opposing President Barack Obama’s decision that would have forced local law enforcement agencies to return armored tanks and other surplus gear they received from the federal government. Obama’s decision came after sometimes-violent protests of the police killing of a black and unarmed 18-year-old in 2014 triggered a huge security response in Ferguson, Missouri.

Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard “was able to keep his tracked armored vehicles, which he believes is very important for public safety,” Trott said.

Trott won the district by nearly 16 percentage points in 2014. Through Monday, Trott had run an estimated $281,524 in broadcast television ads, compared with $19,222 for Kumar, according to a Michigan Campaign Finance Network analysis of Kantar Media/CMAG tracking data.

“If Trott’s in trouble, it would only be because the result on Election Day is a catastrophe for Republicans and straight-ticket voting is such a big factor that Democrats end up winning by default or accident,” Ballenger said.

Kumar, a native of India who immigrated to Metro Detroit in 1984, said he has spent several years helping register and educate the region’s growing south Asian residents. He anticipates strong support from those voters.

“If I was not confident that this was winnable, I really would not have run, because there’s a whole load of energy and a lot of money I’m spending,” Kumar told The Detroit News.

Kumar has not filed a required financial disclosure form as he did during the 2014 primary, telling The News he asked the House Clerk’s Office if it was required but did not hear back.

Bentivolio returns

But national Democratic groups have not poured any significant money into Kumar’s campaign, focusing more on Michigan’s 1st, 7th and 8th congressional districts.

“You just don’t hear Democrats really talking about it,” said Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of the Rothenburg & Gonzales report.

Trott isn’t the only candidate with congressional experience on the ballot. His predecessor, former Republican U.S. Rep. Kerry Bentivolio of Milford, collected enough signatures to qualify as an independent.

Bentivolio said he is handing out congressional report cards showing he was a more consistent conservative vote than Trott, who beat him by nearly 33 points in the 2014 Republican primary.

The former teacher and Army veteran launched a write-in campaign for the general election two years ago but received less than 1 percent of the vote. He filed for bankruptcy protection in early 2015.

“I’m fed up with waste and corruption” in Congress, Bentivolio told The News, saying he wants to provide another option for GOP voters who don’t like Trott and may have otherwise considered Kumar.

“My chances of winning are slim to none, and slim left the building, but I’m going to do the fight anyway,” he said.

Standing by Trump

Trott said he is not worried about Bentivolio, suggesting “the voters spoke pretty loud and clear back in 2014.”

Trott is a longtime attorney with former businesses in title insurance and foreclosure processing. He was also a major Republican fundraiser before joining Congress, where he is considered one of the richest representatives.

A member of the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees, Trott introduced eight bills or resolutions this term, mostly dealing with international affairs and finance.

His proposal to combat predatory organ trafficking passed the House, but none of his bills have been approved yet by the Senate.

“I think it’s indicative of a divided government and a United States Senate that doesn’t do much of anything,” Trott said. “The bills that I’ve passed had very strong bipartisan support, so I think I have worked across the aisle.”

The Republican incumbent has criticized some of Trump’s more controversial comments but continues to back the presidential nominee, who is trailing Democrat Hillary Clinton in Michigan polls.

“Donald Trump wasn’t my first choice, and frankly I don’t think either party nominated the best people, but at this point I’m standing by my endorsement,” Trott said.

Kumar argues Trott has not done enough to disavow Trump, saying he is shocked a presidential candidate “would be able to get away with such comments, which are bigoted, anti-minority, anti-women and insulting.”

Kumar: Fix Obamacare

Kumar is touting his own professional experience in his campaign.

“I’m not one of the regular politicians that may be going there for a career,” he said. “I’m a doctor that has seen the need for it because my patients are unable to fill up their prescriptions and are not getting the health care they deserve.”

Kumar’s work as a clinical faculty for Michigan State University medical students has informed his plans to offer debt-free education through tax credits, he said.

And as the owner of a low-cost surgery center, he said he wants to ease the tax burden on small businesses.

He also has seen the Affordable Care Act up close and personal, saying there are “numerous things that are very good” about the law, including a prohibition on insurers denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, but “a lot of it needs to be changed.”

“There is no way anybody would feel that a law created in such a sort of a chaotic manner would be perfect,” Kumar said.

By contrast, Trott wants to repeal and replace the law which has resulted in rising premium costs, especially for residents who earn too much to qualify for subsidies but do not have employer insurance.

Michigan residents will pay an average of 16.7 percent more for individual insurance plans offered through the federal health exchange starting in January.

Trott, who supports Obamacare alternatives proposed in House Speaker Paul Ryan’s “Better Way” plan, acknowledged that crafting a new health care law would not be easy given the political climate in Washington, D.C.

“I’m not willing to say to you that we can’t do it,” he said. “I think it will just require an effort of leadership by the president, whoever he or she is, and hard work by Congress.”

joosting@detroitnews.com