By Lee Cary –
The local Republican establishment in the 11th Michigan Congressional District didn’t want Kerry Bentivolio to be their candidate for Congress, so they did all they could to confound his campaign. In the end, their efforts failed. On November 6, 2012, he was elected to Congress.
Congressman Thaddeus McCotter resigned his 11th District seat
Bentivolio’s circuitous path to Congress began on June 2, 2012, the day Republican incumbent Congressman McCotter decided not to run for re-election. His political demise began when, on May 25, 2012, he conceded that many of the signatures on his petition to be listed on the August primary ballot were invalid.
On July 6, 2012, McCotter resigned from the seat he’d held since January 2003, leaving the 11th District without representation in Congress. Consequently, the race was on to pick a Republican candidate for the general election just four months away.
One Republican, Kerry Bentivolio, was already officially in the race. He had planned to run against McCotter in the GOP primary election, and had submitted a valid petition to be on the ballot.
Bentivolio was a relative political unknown in 2012
In 2012, Bentivolio’s political background consisted of an unsuccessful run for the Michigan Senate in 2010.
The 11th Congressional District encompasses communities in western Wayne and Oakland Counties northwest of Detroit, where Bentivolio was born in 1951. With the exception of two years, the district’s House seat had been held by Republicans since 1939.
An on-line bio of Bentivolio reads:
“He received an associate degree in liberal arts at Oakland Community College, attended Michigan State University and received a bachelor’s degree from St. Mary’s College. He received a master’s degree in education from Marygrove College.
He enlisted in the U.S. Army after high school, and served as a rifleman in Vietnam until his honorable discharge. He remained active in the military, serving more than 20 years in the Michigan Army National Guard. He was assigned to the military police and in an administrative role with an artillery unit.
Bentivolio raises reindeer on a small farm in Milford. The reindeer are trained to pull Santa’s sleigh during local parades and special holiday events. He also has a small flock of chickens, a 25-hive honeybee apiary and a 115-vine vineyard.
He has taught English, history, social studies and computer-aided design in public and private schools.
Bentivolio and his wife, Karen, have two adult children.”
Additional information about Bentivolio’s military service is noted here:
“Congressman-elect Kerry Bentivolio enlisted in the United States Army in November 1968, served as an infantry rifleman in Vietnam in 1970 and 1971, during which time he was awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge. Mr. Bentivolio briefly left the service before joining the Michigan Army National Guard, where he trained on the Multiple Launch Rocket System, and deployed to Kuwait with a military police unit during Operation Desert Storm. He deployed to Iraq in 2007 as well, serving as a senior human resources sergeant with an artillery unit and performing combat convoy missions… After suffering a neck injury, Mr. Bentivolio retired as a Sergeant First Class in 2008.”
GOP leaders hand-picked a candidate to run against Bentivolio
An array of opponents aligned against Bentivolio as the August 7, 2012 primary election neared. It included several prominent elected Republicans, national liberal-leaning news outlets, local newspapers – most prominently the Detroit Free Press – and local GOP Party leaders. Their shared objective was to portray Bentivolio as unqualified to serve in Congress. Ridicule ranked high among their methods.
Republican Party leaders recruited a former Michigan State Senator, Nancy Cassis, to run as a right-in candidate in the GOP primary. Cassis retained some Republican name-recognition, and could largely self-fund her campaign. According to a confidential source, in a setting reminiscent of the old “political establishment power brokers meeting in a smoke-filled room,” Party leaders considered at least three other potential candidates (a former GOP Congressional candidate in another district who lost to a Democrat opponent; a prominent foreclosure attorney; and a Michigan State representative) before choosing Cassis because, in part, of her immediate access to substantial financial resources.
There was nothing surreptitious about the GOP establishment’s effort to confound Bentivolio’s campaign. Roll Call reported on June 7, 2012 that:
“Top Michigan Republicans decided to support former state Sen. Nancy Cassis (R) as their consensus write-in candidate for the 11th district GOP ballot.
A cadre of top local GOP leaders met again this morning to discuss potential candidates and settled on Cassis out of a handful of write-in hopefuls who expressed interest…
There’s one Republican on the primary ballot, reindeer rancher Kerry Bentivolio, but GOP leaders opted to try to support a write-in candidate instead.
This afternoon, Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, one of the most influential Republicans in the district, declared Cassis the consensus candidate to reporters.
The group voted 11-0 to support Cassis, according to one of the other potential write-in candidates, former House aide Paul Welday.”
On August 1, 2012, the Detroit Free Press framed the race this way:
“Winning a write-in campaign for a nomination to Congress is daunting, but former state Sen. Nancy Cassis appears to be heading in the right direction.
Cassis, of Novi, is leading her rival Kerry Bentivolio of Milford 52% to 36% in Tuesday’s Republican primary for the 11th Congressional district, even though Bentivolio’s name is the only one on the ballot, a poll conducted for the Free Press, WXYX-TV (Channel 7) and three outstate stations shows.
Cassis was tapped by Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and other local Republican leaders in June as the best candidate.”