Rep. Thaddeus McCotter’s embarrassing ballot flop and subsequent retirement has forced a tough choice on his fellow Republicans.
Will the GOP support the only Republican on the ballot in Michigan’s 11th district, a libertarian-leaning reindeer farmer with minimal political experience? Or will it try to fund a tested Republican in an uphill write-in campaign for the Aug. 7 primary?
In the wake of McCotter’s ballot failure, party leaders were squeamish about backing the candidate on the GOP ballot, teacher Kerry Bentivolio, for fear the unknown novice might lose the GOP-leaning seat to a Democrat. Republicans were leaning toward backing a write-in candidate, but they could not come to a consensus on whom to support to run in the Congressman’s stead.
“There’s no playbook for this. We’re sort of making this up as we go along,” said Paul Welday, a former House aide and one of several Republicans considering a write-in bid. “If we have two, three or more write-in candidates, then nobody will win.”
In addition to Welday, former state Rep. Rocky Raczkowski, Oakland County District Court Judge Kimberly Small and state Sen. Loren Bennett expressed interest in running a write-in campaign for the 11th district. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) counts Small as one of his longtime allies, but Republicans are fractured among the remaining potential candidates.
“There are conversations happening rapidly between the governor, [Oakland County Executive] Brooks Patterson and donors,” said one Michigan Republican operative who requested anonymity to speak candidly. “Everyone is really talking about it, and no one has a real answer or solution yet.”
For now, the National Republican Congressional Committee is taking a wait-and-see approach. NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) and House GOP leadership had quickly supported McCotter’s write-in bid after he failed to make the ballot.
“We are watching the race closely, and we are confident it will remain in Republican hands come November,” NRCC spokeswoman Andrea Bozek said.
McCotter failed to earn a spot on the primary ballot after his campaign turned in just a quarter of the required number of valid signatures to run for Congress in Michigan. His petitions were rife with discrepancies, duplicate signatures and alterations, according to state officials.
The errors were so egregious that the Michigan attorney general launched a criminal investigation into their collection last week. On Saturday night, the Congressman abandoned his five-day-old write-in bid, citing the ongoing probe.
Two longtime McCotter top aides, District Director Paul Seewald and Deputy District Director Don Yowchuang, were in charge of collecting the signatures, according to several Michigan Republican sources. McCotter’s petition listed Yowchuang as one of his circulators but not Seewald, according to Michigan secretary of state spokesman Fred Woodhams.
Phone and email messages to Seewald and Yowchuang’s official House accounts were not returned Monday. McCotter’s communications director did not return a request for comment about the pair of aides.
But several Republican sources said the petition problems stemmed from a hasty, last-minute attempt to get McCotter on the ballot. Names from McCotter’s 2010 petitions were cut and copied to his 2012 forms, several sources said.
The probe has yet to result in any charges being filed. A spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, Joy Yearout, declined to comment on any details of the investigation, including whether it might involve Seewald and Yowchuang.
Former Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox said most election violations are generally misdemeanors but that it’s conceivable someone could be charged with a felony for conspiracy.
Either way, Republicans must pick their new candidate for the seat — and fast. Election officials begin sending out absentee ballots for the Aug. 7 primary in a month. Any write-in candidate must run an expedited and expensive campaign for the nomination.
Meanwhile, Democrats have their own primary problems to worry about in the district. Michigan Democrats support internist Syed Taj for the nomination, but first he must defeat Bill Roberts, a Lyndon LaRouche activist, in the primary.
Democrats kept quiet about Taj’s prospects in the early wake of McCotter’s ballot flap. Privately, they remained unsure the GOP-leaning seat was winnable. But since McCotter announced he will not seek re-election, Democrats are taking a second look at the district.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent a staffer to Taj’s campaign today — a sign it might take the race seriously.
“Congressman McCotter and House Republicans’ incompetence made a district no one should be talking about a possibility for Democrats to win,” a House Democratic aide said. “Win or lose, the NRCC will now have to spend significantly on a district that should be safe for them.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.