A new National Research, Inc. internal poll (June 23-24; 400 likely MI-11 GOP primary voters), commissioned by challenger David Trott’s campaign, projects that freshman Rep. Kerry Bentivolio is an incumbent in serious jeopardy of losing re-nomination in the Aug. 5 Michigan Republican primary.
According to this data, Bentivolio only scores 19 percent in hard support, as compared to Trott’s 33 percent. A May Target Insyght/Michigan Information & Research Service automated poll revealed the opposite result, however. This survey posted Bentivolio a virtually identical 33-21 percent lead over Trott. Even if the latter poll is the more accurate, the congressman is in deep political trouble. Any incumbent consistently below 40 percent support on ballot test questions, especially within his own political party, is usually headed for defeat.
Kerry Bentivolio is what can be described as an “accidental congressman.” Running as a Tea Party challenger from the right to then-Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Livonia), Bentivolio suddenly found himself as the only Republican on the ballot when the incumbent failed to properly qualify. Unopposed in the GOP primary save for a last-minute write-in campaign from a former state legislative leader and aided by a major Super PAC effort on his behalf, Bentivolio won the nomination and then skated in the general election against a weak Democratic candidate.
Even with the strong outside financial support, however, Bentivolio still lost the concurrent special election in the pre-redistricting 11th District, made necessary when McCotter resigned from the House. Democrat David Courson defeated Bentivolio in the special election, and served the final post-election weeks of the 112th Congress. Courson was a candidate for only the special election and not the full term. In fairness, Bentivolio and the Republicans did not make an effort in the special election, but since the new 11th is two-thirds comprised of the former 11th’s territory, the GOP certainly had the inside track for victory and the result provides further clues as to Bentivolio’s inherent weakness as a candidate.
This time, the new congressman finds himself embroiled in a more traditional political campaign against an opponent with strong backing and the ability to raise funds. Through the first quarter, Bentivolio raised a respectable $522,000, but showed only $1,676 cash-on-hand. More than 82 percent of his funds went to campaign overhead and for his own loan repayment. During the same period, Trott obtained more than $800,000 in contributions coupled with an additional $800,000 candidate loan. His statement reported more than $1 million cash-on-hand. The new Federal Election Commission disclosure filing, due in two weeks after the books close today, may tell a different story.
The MI-11 race is the top national example of more mainstream Republicans firing back at a Tea Party incumbent. Trott is a Tier One candidate, supported by the Michigan Republican power structure, so this race is not a typical incumbent-challenger affair. Here, it is the challenger who enjoys most of the advantages usually reserved for the office holder. Though Bentivolio does retain some outside support, the amounts apparently will pale in comparison to what was spent in 2012 (approximately $600,000).
Considering the two men’s voting records will be largely the same, it is the battle for the Republican Party that’s mired at the heart of this campaign. This last month of campaigning obviously becomes the critical time but, at the beginning of the stretch drive, the momentum and flavor of the race suggests that Rep. Bentivolio, and not challenger Trott, is the true underdog.