Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

Chafee Out in R.I.; Bentivolio Challenged in MI-11

In Election Analysis on September 5, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who began his political career as a Republican, switched to Independent to run for governor after losing his US Senate seat, and who then became a Democrat after attaining the state office, announced yesterday that he will not seek a second term next year.

Gov. Chafee is among the least-popular state chief executives according to various public opinion polls. The surveys project him languishing in upside-down job approval territory by sometimes greater than a 2:1 negative to positive ratio. His move to join the Democrats appeared to be a desperate attempt to retain his office, and a strategy he hoped would cause potential intra-party contenders to back away once he became an official member. That did not happen, and Chafee clearly has blinked.

For the Democrats – the dominant political party in Rhode Island – state Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Providence Mayor Angel Tavares have been expected to enter the race against Chafee and now will assuredly do so under an open seat situation. Republicans Allen Fung, the mayor of Cranston, and 2010 nominee John Robitaille, who lost to Chafee by only three points, are the minority party’s prospective candidates. The Democrat nominee, however, will be the overwhelming favorite to win the general election.

Chafee’s retirement means that eight of the 38 in-cycle gubernatorial elections will be open races, five of which are term limit related.

MI-11

Freshman Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R) is considered by many to be an “accidental” congressman. When first filing to run for office in Michigan back in early 2012, he did not anticipate actually winning the seat. Rather, he was attempting to make a political statement from the Libertarian right.

After the candidate filing deadline passed, ensuing events began to develop. Then-Rep. Thaddeus McCotter’s (R) organization self-destructed, failing to submit enough qualified petition signatures to legally secure the incumbent’s ballot placement. As a result, McCotter was forced into retirement and Bentivolio found himself as the only legally qualified Republican candidate in a nominal Republican district. He repelled a write-in primary opponent backed by established Republican Party leaders, thus making himself into a legitimate congressional candidate.

In the general election, with the candidates’ combined spending barely exceeding $1.25 million, Bentivolio defeated Democratic nominee Syed Taj, a physician. The final tally was 51-44 percent in the Republican’s favor.

Now comes the new congressman’s first re-election and, since yesterday, he faces a serious Republican primary opponent. David Trott, a prominent Farmington Hills financial services attorney, formally announced that he will challenge Bentivolio in next year’s Republican primary. Trott already has secured the backing of many top local GOP office holders and party officials, already making this a serious primary challenge.

Much of Trott’s legal business concerns mortgage foreclosures. He represents many of the big Wall Street private financial firms in addition to the major federal institution, Fannie Mae. Michigan Democratic Party chairman Lon Johnson wasted no time in attacking Trott, tipping the party’s strategic hand.

“David Trott has gotten rich by helping to kick Michigan’s middle class families out of their homes, and somehow thinks he deserves a promotion for it,” Johnson said, and somewhat curiously predicted that Trott would neither win the Republican primary nor the general election. The Democrats do not yet have a candidate in this race and failed time and again to field a serious opponent to McCotter during the 10 years that he represented the district.

The 11th District of Michigan is fully contained within Wayne and Oakland counties, encompassing the Livonia, Westland and Milford communities before turning east to annex the city of Troy. GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney carried the 11th CD 52-47 percent over President Obama despite losing 45-54 percent statewide.

Expect both a competitive Republican primary and general election in this suburban Detroit district.

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