Michigan Race Changes

Posted September 12, 2007 at 6:33pm

The still-in-flux race for the right to take on freshman Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) got more complicated late last month when state Senate Minority Leader Mark Schauer (D) joined the race.

On its face, that should be good news for Democrats, because Schauer may be the strongest candidate they could hope to lure into the race. But his decision isn’t making everyone happy: He had earlier told other candidates in the race and his state Senate colleagues that he would not run.

In a sign of how formidable Schauer is in the southeastern Michigan 7th district, attorney David Nacht, who with $160,000 raised the most of the Democratic candidates during their first quarter of fundraising, quickly bowed out of the race and endorsed Schauer.

Nacht said in a statement that he didn’t think he could beat Schauer and “cannot in good faith ask for donations to support such a long odds effort.”

But the National Republican Congressional Committee already is planning a line of attack against Schauer. And there could be bad blood between Schauer and the two other announced candidates, former state Sen. Jim Berryman and organic farmer Sharon Renier, who took 46 percent against Walberg in 2006.

Berryman told The Associated Press that he was disappointed Schauer “told me one thing a month ago and changed his mind,” but said he would stay in the race. Berryman did not respond to calls seeking comment for this article.

“In terms of the other candidates, it’s true, I had said repeatedly that I was not planning to run, and that was a professional and personal decision at that time,” Schauer said.

But he added that a change in his wife’s work situation and Walberg’s performance in office led him to change his mind.

“Tim Walberg, frankly, has been worse than I could ever have imagined,” Schauer said.

The X factor in the race remains former Rep. Joe Schwarz (R), whom Walberg ousted in the 2006 Republican primary. Schwarz, a moderate, recently resuscitated rumors that he might run again, this time as a Democrat, when he released the results of a poll showing him beating Walberg 44 percent to 41 percent in a general election matchup. The Glengariff Group poll was conducted July 24-28, before Schauer entered the race, and had a 4 percent margin of error.

In a recent interview, Schwarz reiterated that he would not run as an Independent; the poll showed Walberg winning with 37 percent in a three-way race against Schwarz and Berryman, with the Independent and the Democrat earning 23 percent each.

Further, the poll found Walberg trouncing Schwarz 70 percent to 18 percent among likely Republican primary voters.

“If you look at the poll results and go on them alone, a prudent person would have to conclude that me running as a Republican or an Independent is not an option,” said Schwarz, who is working on a Michigan health care task force and said he will not announce his plans until after it concludes its work around Oct. 1.

None of the Democrats got off to a strong fundraising start in the first quarter. Berryman posted only $50,000 and Renier didn’t raise anything (she spent only $56,000 in 2006).

Though he had kind things to say about the other candidates, Schauer said the feeling in the district was that none of them could win.

Unlike Berryman, who left his state Senate seat in the eastern part of the district in 1998, “I have a much bigger base, and it’s current, I’m there,” Schauer said.

As for Schwarz, Schauer said, “I don’t think there’s room for him in the Democratic field now that I’m a candidate.”

Schauer said he conducted his own poll before joining the race, though he would not disclose its findings. But a Democratic source who had seen the Schauer poll said it found Walberg garnering only 39 percent of the vote in a head-to-head contest with Schauer (the source would not reveal Schauer’s showing). Thirty-one percent said they would re-elect Walberg and 38 percent preferred someone new, according to the source. The poll had a 4 percent margin of error.

Schauer got some bad press his first week in the race when his chief of staff, Ken Brock, told reporters that Schauer could raise more money than the “liberal, Jewish, trial lawyer” Nacht or the “lazy” Berryman.

Brock apologized for what Schauer called the “unfortunate statement,” and Nacht went forward with his endorsement.

Controversy aside, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is confident the seat is in play. Although President Bush took 54 percent of the vote there during the 2004 White House election, they point to Renier’s relatively strong showing despite being outspent by Walberg more than 20-1.

“Whether it’s Tim Walberg’s votes against expanding health insurance coverage for uninsured children, against providing additional funding for our fighting men and women, or his support for privatizing Social Security and eliminating its guaranteed benefit, recent polling has confirmed what everyone already knows — Tim Walberg is one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the country because he has repeatedly turned his back on Michigan’s families,” DCCC spokesman Ryan Rudominer said in a statement.

The NRCC already has one line of attack against Schauer, however: a vote he took in the state House against a resolution saying that only U.S. citizens or legal residents should be able to apply for a driver’s license.

“Congressman Walberg has been in the district all the time and is on the right side of one of the biggest domestic issues, which is illegal immigration,” NRCC spokeswoman Julie Shutley said.

“It doesn’t really matter who the Democratic nominee is. The bigger issue is Walberg’s been doing all the right things to get re-elected.”