Former state Sen. Nancy Cassis (left) is seeking the GOP nomination for Michigans 11th district seat, recently vacated by Rep. Thaddeus McCotter.
On a Saturday afternoon, Bentivolio stands in the corner of the green backyard, just a few yards from Cassis. His aides, including campaign manager Bob Dindoffer, never leave his side.
At first, Dindoffer would only allow Bentivolio to be interviewed if he could approve his quotes. Roll Call declined, but Bentivolio answered a few short questions anyway. He responded to GOP attacks on his role in a low-budget satire film that suggested President George W. Bush planned the 9/11 attacks.
“It shows they have a desperate campaign,” Bentivolio said. “They lie, tell half-truths. There’s a difference between reality and fantasy.”
Within minutes, Bentivolio’s aides cut off questioning. But his evasiveness makes Republicans anxious about what will happen if he becomes their nominee.
“I have a feeling it probably would hand it to Democrats,” said Ronald Dwyer, a local Republican activist. “Unfortunately, Kerry is a first-time candidate with a first-time campaign manager. There’s a question whether he will know how to write a bill, bring it to the floor.”
But Democrats have their own problems in tomorrow’s primary. The party-backed candidate, internist Syed Taj, faces Bill Roberts, a Lyndon LaRouche activist who is also viewed as an unelectable nominee.
If Republican officials have heartburn about Bentivolio, Democrats’ prospects of competing for the seat would evaporate if Roberts becomes their nominee. For example, a recent Roberts campaign poster depicted President Barack Obama with an Adolf Hitler mustache.
Nonetheless, Democrats fear that unaware voters will be more inclined to pull a lever for “Roberts” over “Taj.” That means it’s plausible that come November, a libertarian gadfly will face off with a Lyndon LaRouche supporter who wants to impeach the president.
The whole situation is incredibly strange, especially in a conventional suburban district such as the 11th. Strip malls line the interstate to downtown Detroit. Crime is minimal except on the city border. The school districts are strong.
The redrawn district surrounds northwest Detroit, enveloping some of the city’s Stepford suburbs, like wealthy Birmingham. The presumptive GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, attended a posh boarding school on the new district’s borders.
Typically, a GOP primary would fly under the radar during the pleasant Michigan summer. Several Republicans said they had not heard of either candidate in random interviews across the district.
But McCotter’s retirement and subsequent resignation made headlines. His departure is forcing officials to hold a separate special election on Sept. 5, enraging taxpayers with its $650,000 price tag.
Still, only attentive Republican voters know Cassis — or how to spell her name.
“It might be low turnout,” said Edwin Hillebrand, a Republican primary voter enjoying a late lunch at Bates Hamburgers in Livonia. “I’m leaning towards Cassis, just based on the ads. But I think she’s a long shot.”
“I’ll probably vote for Nancy Cassis because I’m just more middle of the road,” said Craig Stewart, a fourth grade teacher from Canton. “The local Republican establishment is behind her. It just might work.”
A recent survey shows she has a shot, although polling write-in candidates is unpredictable. Bentivolio received only 21 percent, while an unspecific “someone else” candidate received 40 percent. Thirty-nine percent were undecided in the EPIC-MRA survey of 800 likely voters a week ago.