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After ’08 Squeaker, Kilpatrick’s Next Test Is Tuesday

Seven-term Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick faces another tough primary — and even the possibility of defeat — when Democratic voters in Michigan head to the polls on Tuesday. But the dynamics of this race are different from her narrow victory in August 2008.

Two years ago, Kilpatrick became embroiled in the scandal that ultimately sent her son, former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (D), to jail for obstructing justice and later for violating his probation on those charges. He has since been indicted for federal tax evasion.

In the 2008 primary, which was held just one month prior to Kwame Kilpatrick’s guilty plea to two felony counts of obstruction of justice, the Congresswoman faced two well-known Democratic opponents. This year she faces only one: state Sen. Hansen Clarke.

And the fact that more people voted against the Congresswoman than voted for her two years ago does not bode well for her prospects this time.

Recent public polls, including one conducted in mid-July, have shown Clarke ahead by single digits. A Glengariff Group Inc. poll, commissioned by the Detroit News and WDIV, showed Kilpatrick trailing Clarke, 38 percent to 30 percent, with other candidates all registering at 3 percent or less. An EPIC-MRA poll conducted for the Clarke campaign earlier in July showed him ahead 44 percent to 31 percent.

A Kilpatrick campaign spokesman declined to release the Congresswoman’s nightly polling data but said she often leads by single digits.

When asked on Tuesday why she has attracted such strong opposition, the Congresswoman said, “Well, it’s America. A lot of people want to run and be accomplished. That’s what I’m feeling.”

Kilpatrick won the 2008 primary with 39 percent of the vote against former state Rep. Mary Waters, who finished with 35 percent, and state Sen. Martha Scott, who received 25 percent.

This time around, six Democrats are challenging her, though Hansen is by far the best-known contender.

Clarke, a second-term state Senator whose district lies entirely within Kilpatrick’s Congressional district, is familiar to Detroit voters. He was first elected to the Michigan House of Representatives in 1990, then won a Senate seat in 2002. In 2005 he lost a bid for mayor to Kilpatrick’s son.

Clarke, the son of an African-American mother and a Bangladeshi immigrant father, has been endorsed by the Detroit Free Press and the Michigan Chronicle.

He has raised at least $224,000 for his campaign, and as of July 14 he reported having $72,000 remaining in the bank.

But opponents lambasted Clarke’s decision not to show up for the only debate of the primary campaign on Monday night. His campaign said he had a previously planned fundraiser scheduled and that he is focused on reaching out to voters directly, knocking on doors and making appearances at local events.

Kilpatrick, who did participate in the debate, said she will emphasize her strength as Michigan’s lone member of the House Appropriations Committee in the final week of the campaign. She also has the endorsements of a number of high-profile local Democrats, including Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh.

When asked about the race, Kilpatrick didn’t have much to say about her opponent. “He’s a nice guy,” she said Tuesday. “That’s it.”

The Congresswoman began airing a TV ad on Tuesday that showed constituents thanking her for funding for new buses and the Rosa Parks Transit Center. Although she will be in Washington, D.C., for votes through Friday or Saturday, she plans to hit the ground running on Sunday, her campaign said. She will make appearances at a series of Detroit churches, and House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) will join her in the evening.

Last cycle, Kilpatrick was joined on the campaign trail by then-Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), whom she can’t rely on this time because of his own ethical issues.

Kilpatrick, a former Congressional Black Caucus chairwoman, has already raised and spent more than a half-million dollars this cycle. As of mid-July she showed $281,000 in her campaign account. However, her pre-primary fundraising report showed that she spent nothing from July 1 to July 14.

Late fundraising reports filed this week showed she received recent contributions from fellow CBC members Reps. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). Earlier this cycle she got the maximum donation from the CBC’s political action committee.

Clarke spokeswoman Kim Bowman emphasized that the state Senator is focusing on reaching out to voters, not on drawing contrasts with the Congresswoman but added that she thinks voters are looking for new representation in 2010.

“More needed to be done, and she was given a chance when she narrowly won in 2008,” Bowman said. “That was like a wake-up call for her. I don’t want to be disrespectful, but people want change and new leadership.”

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