"Accidental Congressman" seeks 2nd term in 11th district against the odds

Aug 3, 2014

Credit via bentiviolioforcongress.com

Few districts have a Congressman with as colorful a background as Kerry Bentivolio of Michigan's 11th District -- Army veteran, teacher, reindeer rancher and Santa Claus impersonator. 

Now, he's facing an overwhelming challenge from a candidate within his own party.

Two years ago, Bentivolio was sent to Congress almost on a fluke. 

The Accidental Congressman

Bentivolio was an obscure Tea Party challenger on the primary ballot.  He had no political experience and was facing a four-term incumbant, Thaddeus McCotter, who was considered a shoe-in for a fifth term. 

But McCotter resigned from the race in disgrace, after his staff was caught forging and photocopying the signatures on his nominating petitions.

So, voters in the Republican-leaning district chose the only person on the ballot with an (R) after his name - Kerry Bentivolio.

That's despite a write-in challenge from a more traditional Republican candidate, who criticized Bentivolio for embarrassing details from his past.  Those included allegations that he verbally mistreated high school students in his classroom when he was a teacher, his role in an amateur movie which showed the President of the United States orchestrating the attacks of 9-11, and, of course, his portrayals of Santa Claus at parades and similar holiday events, with the reindeer he raised on his own farm in Milford Township.

A strong challenge

Real estate attorney David Trott is not invulnerable - his law firm specializes in home foreclosures.

But Trott has spent more than $3.5 million on his campaign, much of it his own, and he's been speaking and pressing the flesh at every campaign and fundraising event he possibly can.

Three weeks before the election, Trott, and virtually every other 11th congressional candidate, appeared at a political forum at the Fox Run retirement community.  Everybody but Bentivolio, that is. 

Bentivolio sent a pre-taped video message instead. 

Trott says that's typical.

"He wasn't at the League of Women Voters last night," says Trott.  "He's not here tonight.  You know, from 2012 forward his MO has been to show up either unannounced so he can avoid the press, or just not make himself available."

Where was Bentivolio?  

On a fact-finding mission to Central America with his mentor Darryl Issa, Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.  They went to investigate why thousands of unaccompanied children are seeking asylum in the U.S.

While it's true he rarely speaks with the press, Bentivolio did grant Michigan Radio a phone interview when he returned to Washington.  

He says Central American kids face violence and poverty.

"We understand," said Bentivolio.  "My heart goes out to 'em, I'll do everything I can to help.  But my primary focus is on the problems that are facing this country as well."

Bentivolio says he's more concerned about meeting the needs of Americans whose kids are graduating from college knee deep in debt and unable to find jobs.

While in Congress.....

Bentivolio voted many times to repeal the Affordable Care Act....returned an award from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce because he objected to the group's support of immigration reform....called for disbanding the IRS.

And his bill, the Safe and Secure Federal Websites Act, was passed by the House.  The bill requires the federal government to certify as secure any new websites which collect personal information from citizens, including Healthcare.gov.

The re-election campaign that wasn't

Ken Sikkema of Public Sector Consultants says Bentivolio had two years to learn the basics of politics - but he never did. 

"He just totally misused, if you will, or didn't use, his two years' incumbancy," says Sikkema.  "He hasn't raised any money, he hasn't really built any kind of campaign infrastructure that anybody can see."

Bentivolio changed campaign managers just weeks before the primary date, and he's been sued for back pay by a former staffer.

One poll showed David Trott more than 20 points ahead, a few weeks before the primary.

Sikkema calls it an underdog story, with a twist.  

"If the incumbant, Congressman Bentivolio -- if he actually wins the primary, it would be the upset of the century."

Not to mention the Democrats

On the Democratic side, there is a spirited race as well, with four people vying to run in November, with three in particular, Anil Kumar, Bobby McKenzie, and Nancy Skinner, putting on strong campaigns.

They're spending more time attacking David Trott than Kerry Bentivolio.

A Democrat winning in the 11th Congressional district is certainly a long shot.

But - then, a guy with a resume that includes reindeer rancher, going to Washington?
 
That was a long shot, too.