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Gary Peters Finds Strength Along 8 Mile

Shira Toeplitz/CQ Roll Call
Rep. Gary Peters talks to Ron and Robyn Markoe while campaigning door-to-door in the Sherwood Forest neighborhood of Detroit last weekend.

By contrast, Peters approaches campaigns with scientific efficiency. He loves that word — efficiency — and reminds his aides to plan his time accordingly. Peters becomes worried if he passes too many homes without knocking on a door. He calls undecided voters from a semi-permanent trailer parked in a local union’s lot.

If Peters wins re-election, he will be in a better position to run statewide. He could challenge Gov. Rick Snyder (R) or run for the seat of Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) if the 78-year-old retires next cycle. One Democratic aide described him as “the Democratic bench” in the state.

Peters is a polished politician and knows what it takes to win — and it shows.

As soon as he decided to face Clarke, he called almost every pastor in the new district. He nailed down the endorsement of the Michigan-Ontario Council of Bishops.

“I consider Peters to be a brother,” Sheard said after the service.

Peters’ efforts are paying off, according to a public poll. He ran almost 20 points ahead of Clarke in the July 23 survey by a local television network. His fundraising surpasses his colleague as well.

But the same poll also showed 76 percent of primary voters are worried about not having minority representation in Detroit. Those concerns are amplified by neighboring Rep. John Conyers, who is at risk of losing his seat to a white suburban state Senator in next week’s Democratic primary.

“It’s interesting because this district has never had, or it’s been a long time,  that this district has had a Congressman who wasn’t African-American,” said Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh, who is neutral in the contest. “That would be something that a lot of people would have to get adjusted to.”

Almost 50 years after Detroit elected Conyers, race still looms over the city’s politics. But in this district, in one of the most economically depressed cities, it seems there are more important concerns.

Marsha Rutherford, a small-business owner in the Greater Emmanuel choir, ticked off the names of several politicians from her community who failed Detroit. That list includes former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, the recently incarcerated son of the former Congresswoman whom Clarke defeated.

“Cause you’re from here, does it really make a difference?” Rutherford said. “Because you’re from here, does it really justify my vote? Proof is in the pudding.”

Clarification, Aug. 1
An earlier version of this story stated that Rep. Hansen Clarke does not live in Michigan’s 14th district, where he is running. Clarke did not live in the district boundaries after it was redrawn, but he filed his nominating petitions using a home address that is in the district.

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