An out-of-state group is spending at least $1.5 million in TV ads attacking Republican Congressman Fred Upton, the House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman who's up for re-election in southwest Michigan.

The Mayday super political action committee — co-founded by Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig — is arguing the nearly 28-year congressman is the "worst of the worst" in Congress in depending on "big-money interests. It hopes the argument will lead to an upset by Western Michigan University political science professor and Democrat Paul Clements.

Upton, known for backing campaign finance and bipartisan efforts, bristles at the charge and said this unexpected attack is why he accepts PAC money — to be prepared for expensive attacks.

"An out-of-state, out-of-touch super PAC is dropping $1.5 million in ultra-negative smear ads, and it's not playing well for them," said Upton campaign manager Tom Wilbur. "I think people are fed up with the negative attacks. Fred is emphasizing a positive message of bipartisan success stories."

It is a twist in what was supposed to be the year of the congressional counter-revolt in Michigan, when Democrats would defeat Republican incumbents and take back control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The prospects have dimmed as national Democrats have shifted to spending their money on defending their incumbents in other states.

"National Democrats are on defense this year," said Adrian Hemond, a Democratic partner at the bipartisan Grassroots Midwest consulting firm in Lansing.

But the Mayday ad invasion occurs in a year when Alma native Dave Brat beat House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a Virginia GOP primary.

"Unseating Fred Upton seems like a long shot at best, but anything is possible," Hemond said.

Here are the more competitive or intriguing outstate races:

6th Congressional District

Clements has waged a year-and-a-half campaign against Upton, raising $669,315 overall and having $127,406 in cash on hand. He argues that Upton of St. Joseph has become more conservative while the district has become more Democratic.

"Washington is broken, and Washington has changed Fred Upton," Clements spokesman Connor Farrell said. "Southwest Michigan wants someone who will lead and fight for them, not for the oil companies that have given money to Fred Upton."

It echoes the attack of Mayday, which says "Chairman Upton took over $10 million from special interests, and we will hold him accountable for consistently putting his big-money donors ahead of his constituents."

Upton chairs a committee that oversees many industries and has received more than $2 million from PACs in the past two years, according to federal reports. He has money to respond to the Mayday attacks, having raised nearly $3 million overall and keeping $1.6 million in cash on hand at the end of September.

Upton told the Kalamazoo Gazette in the past week that he spoke to some funders of Mayday, whom he didn't name, and "They are distraught. They said they were taken for a ride. It's too late."

He previously voted for a campaign finance proposal that would have prohibited issue ads from targeting specific candidates within 30 days of the primary or 60 days of the general election — something the U.S. Supreme Court struck down.

Upton has trumpeted his "proven track record of working on both sides of the aisle to get the job done" of creating jobs through local infrastructure projects and eliminating federal red tape for small firms, Wilbur said.

1st Congressional District

While national political experts expect a third-term win for Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek of the Upper Peninsula's Crystal Falls, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee just poured $536,000 more into TV ads for challenger Jerry Cannon, 66.

"It's not over by any means," said Ted Dick, spokesman for the Democrat who lives east of Traverse City in Fife Lake and is a former Kalkaska County sheriff.

Cannon stresses his public service career. The Vietnam veteran is a retired Michigan Army National Guard major general.

"We're trying to hold Congressman Benishek responsible for wanting to privatize Social Security and end Medicare as we know it — trying to turn it into a voucher system," Dick said.

Benishek, a surgeon, in turn blasts Cannon's support of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, passed before he entered Congress.

"It's disappointing that Cannon and his liberal Washington allies have continued to resort to negative campaign tactics and pushing false attacks instead of focusing on solutions the hardworking people in Northern Michigan want," Benishek press secretary Shelby Hodgkins said.

The congressman "has been working closely with schools and business owners to improve vocational education opportunities throughout the district, to ensure our young people have the chance to receive technical training for jobs in Northern Michigan. He has also been concentrating on fixing the health care system, helping our seniors get the care they deserve and fixing the VA for our veterans."

7th Congressional District

Ex-state Rep. Pam Byrnes is challenging three-term Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg "because Washington is broken and the only way to fix it is through reform and accountability that puts Michigan families first."

Byrnes, a 67-year-old lawyer who lives near Chelsea, is criticizing that the 63-year-old Walberg collects a $60,000 pension as a former state lawmaker and a $174,000 congressional salary. "During the (2013 federal) government shutdown, when families suffered and Washington bickered, Congressman Walberg kept his $174,000 salary when others donated theirs to charity."

Byrnes proposes to cut congressional pay 10 percent and end "unnecessary perks for Congress like taxpayer-funded luxury vehicles and first-class airfare."

Walberg, a former pastor from Adrian Township near Tipton, says he wants to be re-elected so he can help the GOP House majority with tax and regulatory reforms to spur job growth.

Walberg campaign manager Stephen Rajzer said Byrnes' plan "is to make Nancy Pelosi speaker of the House again, and they would work well together, since both Byrnes and Pelosi have a record supporting large tax increases, increasing the size of the federal government and wasting our tax dollars."

He said Walberg "has achieved important bipartisan successes, including having his legislative language to protect children from human trafficking signed into law" and working to improve job training."

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