- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 7, 2012

On one side: a political newcomer with ties to the tea party. On the other: a veteran Republican lawmaker who is clearly the preferred pick of the party establishment.

It’s a scenario that has played out in race after race across the country since 2010, and it’s taking shape again in the congressional contest in Michigan’s 11th District, a seat that Republicans had considered safe before Rep. Thaddeus G. McCotter’s implosion.

The five-term Republican congressman resigned Friday after he and his staff botched the relatively routine process of turning in the proper number of signatures to get his name on the Aug. 7 primary ballot.

Mr. McCotter’s absence sets up a showdown between Kerry Bentivolio, a high-school teacher and tea-party activist, and former state lawmaker Nancy Cassis.

Ms. Cassis, 68, a former state senator with the backing of many of the state’s Republican leaders, launched a write-in bid for the nomination last month after Mr. McCotter’s departure left Mr. Bentivolio as the only Republican on the ballot.

Ms. Cassis, a veteran of the Michigan House and Senate, boasts endorsements from eight current and former state lawmakers on her website, along with a long list of local officials and one congressman, Rep. Mike Rogers. She’s pledged to spend up to $200,000 of her own cash to win the August primary.

A veteran who served in Vietnam and in Iraq, Mr. Bentivolio, 60, has said he’s a fan of Ron Paul — especially the Texas congressman’s ideas on closing overseas American military bases.

That libertarian streak has some Michigan Republicans uneasy — Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who is backing Ms. Cassis, called Mr. Bentivolio’s views “extreme” and Ms. Cassis has said her opponent “doesn’t sound like mainstream Americans.”

The attempts by some in the state’s GOP establishment to derail his insurgent campaign don’t sit well with the part-time Santa (Mr. Bentivolio’s sleigh is pulled by reindeer he raises on his small Milford farm).

“I did the right thing and went out and got my signatures,” he told the Detroit Free Press. “If they [Republican leaders] wanted somebody else, they should have gone out and gotten their own signatures.”

“It is unfortunate that rather than unite behind the only Republican on the ballot, they have chosen to manipulate the process,” he said in a fundraising letter to supporters.

The winner of the GOP primary in the overwhelmingly Republican district will face one of two Democrats, Dr. Syed Taj, 65, or William F. Roberts, 31, in November.

Dr. Taj, the recently retired chief of medicine at Oakwood Hospital, is considered the favorite. Mr. Roberts is a longtime Lyndon LaRouche supporter who has called for the impeachment of President Obama.

Under Michigan law, Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, can call a special election to fill the now-empty seat, but with the primary just weeks away and the general election coming up three months after that, some officials have questioned whether a special election would just further confuse voters.