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Former State Senate Majority Leader Mike Bishop and Ingham County Treasurer Eric Schertzing are vying for a Republican-leaning congressional seat in a campaign that has focused on children, seniors and taxpayers.

Bishop, the Rochester Republican, is favored in the 8th Congressional District to succeed U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Howell, who shocked GOP leaders this year by forgoing a bid for another term to pursue a career in syndicated radio. The district includes Ingham, Livingston and northern Oakland counties.

It has a Democratic base of about 46 percent in the past four election cycles, based on partisan voting trends for statewide education posts. Schertzing, a Democrat from East Lansing, has tried to make the race competitive by focusing on pocketbook issues such as preserving Social Security.

"What we cannot do is privatize Social Security, so it turns into Russian roulette in Wall Street," Schertzing said during a debate last month in Brighton. "Social Security is always there, and it has helped so many senior citizens get out of poverty. It must be maintained."

Bishop contends the Social Security system is "unsustainable" because it is projected to start running in deficit. It was one of several subjects of disagreement last month during a voter event at Brighton High School. Others included immigration reform and government spending.

Bishop pointed to a report from this year by trustees of the Social Security trust fund warning that part of the system financing disability benefits will run short of money by 2016, while costs will overtake revenue for traditional Social Security benefits by 2033.

"Congress needs to come up with a solution, and part of that has to be giving the younger generation the opportunity to use their own money to invest in their own retirement," said Bishop, referring to earlier proposals to let some taxpayers direct a portion of their Social Security tax into investments. "They will not benefit from the current system, so they need to have another option."

Schertzing has been Ingham County treasurer for 14 years. He helped create the county's land bank to deal with redeveloping foreclosed properties and stabilizing neighborhoods.

He grew up on a farm in Stockbridge. His father died of cancer when he was 10, and his mother fell ill shortly after, leaving Schertzing and his brothers to handle the farm. He credits that experience with teaching him fiscal responsibility and shaping his views on health care.

"To get economy going, we need to invest in education," Schertzing said. "When we get people in this country back to work at good wages, that will increase the money coming into the Treasury and that will help the economy."

Bishop has been an attorney for 20 years. He served as a state representative from 1998 to 2002 and state senator until 2010, the last four years as majority leader. Schertzing has criticized Bishop for participating in two state government shutdowns during that time, but Republicans have blamed then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm's for the inability to agree on a balanced budget on time.

Bishop's campaign has trumpeted his backing of legislation to protect children, such as an Amber Alert system, that most legislators also supported.

Bishop said one of the best pieces of advice he ever received was from his father, who said, "if you ever find yourself in a hole, the best thing to do is stop digging."

He argues the same principle would help reduce government debt.

"It really has become to me one of the greatest abdications of responsibility I have ever seen," Bishop said. "Control spending, get rid of government waste. You have to address the priorities, the core purposes of government."

Bishop is favored because the district leans Republican and he has the backing of Rogers, the House Intelligence Committee chairman who made a radio ad in support of his candidacy.

"It's a Republican seat and Mike Bishop is a very strong candidate as a former Senate majority leader," said Steve Mitchell, an East Lansing-based political analyst.

Bishop had raised about $939,000 to Schertzing's $401,000 and had $235,708 in cash to the Ingham treasurer's $52,313 on Oct. 15. From the end of September to Oct. 15, the Republican outraised Schertzing $107,000 to about $50,000.

In another blow to Schertzing's campaign, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has not aired television ads in Metro Detroit.

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