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Michigan: Facing Stiff Challenge, Strong 3rd Quarter for Benishek Coffers

Rep. Dan Benishek reported raising $510,000 in the third quarter. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Rep. Dan Benishek reported raising $510,000 in the third quarter. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

If freshman Republican Rep. Dan Benishek is losing his grasp on Michigan’s 1st district, his campaign coffers don’t show it.

His campaign announced its best fundraising quarter ever today, raising a total of $510,000 from July 1 to Sept. 30 to close the period with more than $570,000 in cash on hand.

His opponent, former state Rep. Gary McDowell (D), reported raising just $400,000. But heading into the final weeks of the campaign, he is sitting on $600,000.

Recent polls suggest McDowell has gained ground on Benishek, a tea-party-backed physician who rode the 2010 Republican wave to Congress and is one of his party’s most vulnerable lawmakers. The Detroit Free Press

. The Detroit Free Press endorsed McDowell on Sunday.

Roll Call rates this race, a 2010 rematch, as Leans Democratic even though its newly redistricted map loops in much of Republican-leaning Grand Traverse County, which includes Traverse City, the district’s biggest town.

Democrats note that the district is heavy on seniors who they say are likely to vote for a candidate they believe will preserve Social Security and Medicare.

“The smart money here is on Gary,” said HDMK lobbyist Mike Hacker, a Mount Clemens, Mich., native and former aide to House Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.). “It’s a late emerging race.”

Observers on both sides say Benishek has failed to build strong relationships with voters, particularly in the southern portion of the district. But for McDowell, the pressure for him to win now is apparent.

“If he loses this time, it will be tough for the Democrats to come back and win this district,” said Bill Ballenger, the publisher of Inside Michigan Politics. “This is a pivotal election.”

The third-quarter fundraising numbers highlight the financial advantage of incumbency. So far, Benishek has raised $1.79 million to McDowell’s $1.33 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Super PACs have played heavily in this district. On Friday, the Democratic-aligned House Majority PAC dropped $200,000. The next day, GOP-affiliated group Crossroads GPS launched an $8.1 million three-week television and radio blitz to help Benishek and 10 other Republicans. Both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee are invested as well.

“Basically it’s the race from two years ago without a lot a changes other than a lot more money on both sides,” said Mike Gillman, a Republican city commissioner in Traverse City.

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