An Ex-Congressman’s Shaky Comeback Bid in Michigan

In the Michigan primary, Hansen Clarke will attempt to win his former Detroit-based district. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
In the Michigan primary, Hansen Clarke will attempt to win his former Detroit-based district. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted August 4, 2014 at 12:00pm

Former Rep. Hansen Clarke’s hopes of returning to Congress in a definitive Tuesday primary might be just that for the Michigan Democrat — hopes.  

He’s attempting to leverage his name recognition as a former one-term member, but Clarke’s top two Democratic rivals, state Rep. Rudy Hobbs  and Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence, have major political heft behind their campaigns. Several of Clarke’s former colleagues have lined up behind his opponents, and others 
expressed doubt about his prospects of coming back to Congress. “I wanted Hansen to come back, but Hansen didn’t get any labor endorsements,” said Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., who is neutral in the race, in between votes last week. “I think that that’s almost fatal.” Clarke lost re-election in 2012, when Democratic Rep. Gary Peters trounced him in a member-vs.-member race in the Detroit-based, black-majority district that stretches from the city’s wealthiest suburbs to its poorest neighborhoods. Clarke ran a disorganized campaign and sources on the ground said a similar scenario is playing out again in the open-seat race this time.  

For example, Clarke entered the race in mid-April — a late start compared to his primary foes. Hobbs announced his bid nearly a year earlier — just after Peters jumped into the Senate contest — and the state lawmaker has the support of most of the labor unions in the district.  

Labor is a key constituency in the district’s Democratic primary, the winner of which is almost certainly come to Congress. In 2012, President Barack Obama won 81 percent of the vote in the 14th District.  

In a phone interview last week, Clarke contested he had the support of rank-and-file members.  

“Labor vote is very important,” Clarke said in a phone interview. “That’s why I received the support of the rank and file. Those are the ones that actually vote.”  

But Clarke also lags far behind his opponents in fundraising, bringing in $179,000 for the effort as of his most recent fundraising report ending July 16. He only had $20,000 in cash on hand going into the primary’s final stretch.  

Support from Clarke’s former colleagues back in Washington, D.C., is sparse. Online fundraising records show no members donated to his campaign save for Rep. Eliot L. Engel, D-N.Y., who made a contribution of $1,000.  

Instead, Hobbs has been the candidate with the most visible congressional support — and he’s reaped the financial benefits.  

Rep. Sander M. Levin, a longtime Democrat from the neighboring 9th District, has been Hobbs’ strongest advocate. Levin endorsed Hobbs, a former aide, early in the race.  

Several other members have backed the Hobbs as well, including retiring Sen. Carl Levin and Reps. Keith Ellison of Minnesota Sanford D. Bishop Jr., of Georgia.  

Hobbs raised $608,000 and had $196,000 in cash on hand as of mid-July. He unloaded much of that in television advertising in recent days.  

As recently mid-July, Hobbs was mired in third place  behind Clarke and Lawrence. But a more recent automated poll from Levin’s leadership PAC showed Hobbs in first place.  

“I’m hopeful,” Levin said of his protege’s chances.  

Lawrence also has strong name identification from her previous run. Last cycle, she she came in a distant third to Peters and Clarke. But this time, Lawrence has the support of EMILY’s List, an organization that supports Democratic women who back abortion rights. Besides EMILY’s List,  Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Marcia L. Fudge of Ohio, Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington and Rep. Lois Frankel of Florida donated to her campaign.  

“I was a mayor. She was a mayor. I got friendly with her at the U.S. Conference of Mayors,” Frankel said in an interview earlier this week. “It’s a personal matter. I don’t know the other candidates at all. She’s a friend.”  

Frankel, a freshman, never served with Clarke.  

Thanks to members and beyond, Lawrence raised $384,000 by mid-July. As of her pre-primary report, she spent $330,000 and had $63,000 in cash on hand.  

Lawrence also picked up an endorsement from singer Aretha Franklin during a Detroit concert.  

“No one else has the queen of soul,” Lawrence said.  

But Clarke remains undeterred, saying he entered the race at the urging of his former constituents.  

“They drafted me to run again,” Clarke said. “We’re going to win.”  

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