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Familiar Names Aim at Walberg

Looking ahead to his first re-election battle, freshman Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) likely will face one or both of the men he’s beaten before: former Rep. Joe Schwarz (R), to whom Walberg lost a 2004 primary before beating him in 2006, and former state Sen. Jim Berryman (D), whom he beat in a 1988 race for state Representative.

Berryman, a former Adrian mayor who served in the state Senate from 1990 to 1998, declared his candidacy by filing papers with the Federal Election Commission last week.

But whether Berryman will have a clean shot at Walberg depends heavily on a decision by Schwarz, who after serving one term in Congress fell to Walberg’s challenge from the right, 53 percent to 47 percent in the 2006 Republican primary.

Schwarz said in an interview last week that he is considering running as either a Democrat or Republican in 2008.

“The first question is do I run or not run, and then there’s the question of which political banner I run under,” Schwarz said. “I have to figure out which one I can run under that most comports with my own political philosophy and my personal beliefs. I haven’t decided that yet.”

Schwarz was the Michigan chairman of Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) presidential bid in 2000 and has indicated that he is backing McCain again in 2008.

Berryman served with Schwarz in the state Senate, and both men said they are good friends — “a close and dear friend of mine, a heck of a nice guy,” Schwarz said. Berryman said he talked with the former Congressman before deciding to move forward with his campaign.

“We had this conversation and I told Joe I don’t think he can switch parties,” Berryman said. “He’s a moderate Republican [Schwarz supports abortion rights and federal funding of stem-cell research] but he’s a lifelong Republican. He was a supporter of [Republican Gov.] John Engler when we served in the Senate together, and he was supportive of the Bush administration during his two years in Congress … Democrats do not need to vote for a Republican to win in 2008.”

Berryman, 60, and Schwarz, 69, sounded almost identical in their criticism of Walberg, a former pastor who attended Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute and is a darling of the Christian right.

Berryman: “I just so vehemently disagree with Walberg’s political views. … Tim runs on issues that divide people. He runs on the constitutional amendment against gay marriage. Those are not the important issues. Are they divisive? Yes, they are. Are they the issues that will make a difference on whether someone is able to put food on the table? No.”

Schwarz: “I don’t think guns, gays and abortion are the most important issues. Iraq, education, health care, homeland security — those issues get short shrift in a partisan primary on the Republican side. The evangelicals, the religious right comes out of the walls and they seem to dictate the issues. I find that inappropriate. Disingenuous. Not worthy of a political party that purports to represent a large cross section of the electorate.”

National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman Julie Shutley declined to comment on the possibility of Schwarz running, saying only, “Congressman Walberg has hit the ground running. He’s a hard worker and a strong campaigner who won in a difficult environment in 2006. He’s doing a good job representing his district.”

So what will finally happen in 2008?

“With Berryman in the race, I think it’s much less likely Schwarz will run as a Democrat,” said Bill Ballenger, editor of the Inside Michigan Politics newsletter. “Berryman is a lifelong Democrat, and Joe Schwarz would be running in a new party against a guy established as a Democrat.

“Now, would he challenge Walberg in a Republican primary? If he couldn’t beat Walberg last year in a primary when he was the incumbent, I doubt he’d be doing better next year.”

Schwarz became the Republican nominee in 2004 after taking 28 percent of the vote in a primary against five conservatives (Walberg finished third but ousted Schwarz in their head-to-head confrontation two years later). He rebuffed the suggestion that his best chance might be to run as an Independent.

“The path to higher office is strewn with the bodies of Independents who tried and failed,” Schwarz said. “The chances of an Independent winning a three-way race in the 7th district or anywhere are pretty slim. It’s damned unlikely.”

Walberg is a Democratic target after winning in 2006 with only 51 percent despite outspending his opponent, Democrat Sharon Renier, $1.2 million to $56,000 in a district that President Bush carried with 54 percent of the vote in 2004. Neither of the parties’ national campaign committees invested in the race.

Walberg was in the news recently when he said on a radio show that much of Iraq is “as safe and cared for as Detroit or Harvey, Ill., or some other places that have trouble with armed violence.” Detroit and Harvey are both majority-black communities.

Berryman said the “racially motivated” remark didn’t surprise him, considering one of the tactics Walberg used in their 1988 race, which Berryman lost by about 650 votes.

“He put out a campaign piece with a picture of me and the black mayor of Detroit, Coleman Young. The message was, ‘If he’s elected, he’s going to be friends with Coleman Young,’” Berryman said. “He thought there was a prejudice among people that Detroit was a drag on Michigan.”

Renier — another triple rematch possibility, as she also lost to Schwarz in 2004 — and attorney David Nacht are also looking at joining the Democratic field, but for now all eyes are on Schwarz and Berryman.

“A primary would not be in the best interest of the Democratic Party,” said Schwarz, who declined to back Walberg after losing last year’s primary and has already indicated he will not endorse him under any circumstances this year. “I am pretty certain there will be one candidate in the primary.”

Ballenger agreed but went on to suggest that Schwarz will not be that candidate.

“My guess is Berryman will probably have a clean shot at the Democratic nomination,” Ballenger said. “I don’t think Schwarz will run as either a Republican or a Democrat next year.”