Walberg Seeks to Retake House Seat

But He May First Have to Fight a Primary Battle

Posted July 15, 2009 at 5:28pm

Tim Walberg (Mich.) this week became the third former House Republican to officially announce a quest to reclaim his old seat, joining the ranks of former Reps. Steve Pearce (N.M.) and Steve Chabot (Ohio) in their respective rematch races against freshman Democrats.

But unlike Pearce and Chabot, it’s unclear whether Walberg will be able to clear the primary field for a chance to face freshman Rep. Mark Schauer (D-Mich.). Although there are no other official GOP candidates yet, moderate 7th district Republicans said they found it hard to believe Walberg would be the only Republican in the primary next August.

After all, the south-central Michigan district has a history of contested primaries. When former Rep. Nick Smith (R) retired in 2004, five Republicans — including Walberg — ran to succeed him. Moderate Republican Joe Schwarz won that election but lost his seat two years later to Walberg in the 2006 GOP primary.

Schwarz said he has not yet considered running again for his former seat, and he has not been in touch with the National Republican Congressional Committee about a bid.

“The NRCC and I have not communicated,— Schwarz said. “I don’t know if we’ve ever communicated, but we certainly haven’t in the last year or so.—

The one-term Republican would be an unlikely choice because he endorsed Schauer in the 2008 race — a contest that the Democrat won by a slim margin of about 7,400 votes in a high-turnout year. Nonetheless, Schwarz believes Walberg will have a primary for his seat.

“It’s the makeup of the district and the fact that there’s a certain cohort of conservative Republicans who would support Mr. Walberg,— Schwarz said. “And there’s an equally large, perhaps larger, group that would be considered center-right Republicans who would probably like to have a candidate whose philosophy was in concert with their own.—

The NRCC has not endorsed any former Members who are running for their old seats — nor has it officially backed any nonincumbent candidates for their primaries. The committee is aware, however, that other candidates are looking at the seat and are expected to enter the race.

A Walberg spokesman said the former Congressman was not available for an interview this week and did not return a request for comment on whether the NRCC had offered to support him in his campaign.

Still, several local Republicans mentioned possible candidates for the seat other than Walberg, although many of the proffered names are already opting to seek another office.

One former Schwarz supporter said the CEO of the Michigan Association of Realtors, Bill Martin, is thinking about running in the GOP primary. Martin is a former state Representative who has also served as the state’s lottery director.

State Rep. Rick Jones (R) could also run in the primary; however, local Republicans said Jones is interested in the local Senate seat. State Sen. Cameron Brown (R) would have also been a popular pick to run for the Congressional seat, but he is running for secretary of State.

And several other likely Republican candidates said they are not interested in running — at least for now.

Washtenaw County Commissioner Mark Ouimet said he was approached by a local group about joining the primary but is not interested.

“It would be very difficult to beat Tim Walberg in a primary,— Ouimet said. “After he beat Joe Schwarz in a primary, it’s pretty difficult for people to unseat him in a primary. General election — I think that’s another matter.—

And another mentioned candidate, lobbyist and former state Sen. Phil Hoffman (R) said he also had no interest in running. A former Walberg supporter and donor, Hoffman had his doubts about Walberg running again for the seat again.

“Tim Walberg, philosophically, I agree with,— Hoffman said. “But on a practical matter, being able to get things done, he was a train wreck.—

Hoffman said he doesn’t plan to support Walberg in his 2010 race and doesn’t know whether the NRCC is recruiting other candidates in the district.

“He failed,— Hoffman said. “I’m not going to reinvest. He’s a bad investment.—

Others who know Walberg say his personality does not lend itself to fundraising because he is uncomfortable asking major donors for dollars. Schauer, on the other hand, is a prodigious fundraiser.

Walberg’s 2006 and 2008 campaigns were boosted by bundled contributions from the Club for Growth, a conservative anti-tax organization that spent millions in an effort to put him into office.

According to the club’s executive director, David Keating, the organization has not yet looked into playing in that district again, but he called Walberg a “terrific Member of Congress— in a statement.

Denise DeCook, a Republican strategist in Michigan, said she thought Walberg could win without financial backing from outside groups but that it would be much more difficult.

“He’s going to need the resources of a lot of groups from out of state, as will Mark Schauer,— DeCook said.