Possible Primary Brewing in Michigan’s 1st District

Republicans could mount a primary challenge to Benishek. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Republicans could mount a primary challenge to Benishek. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted April 14, 2015 at 5:42pm

It’s not just Democrats considering a challenge to Michigan Rep. Dan Benishek, who plans to run for a fourth term  after pledging to serve only three.  

Several Republicans in the state were mentioned as potential primary challengers to the 1st District incumbent. State Rep. Peter Pettalia had been encouraged to run before Benishek announced his intent to seek another term, and “that talk hasn’t stopped” since, Pettalia told CQ Roll Call. The legislator declined to say which “supporting groups” have reached out to him. But, as a “loyal Republican,” Pettalia noted he’d have to give “deep thought” to challenging a seated member of his party.  

Alan Arcand, who lost to Benishek in the 2014 primary by nearly 40 points, has not yet decided whether he’ll mount another challenge to the incumbent. He told CQ Roll Call “there was almost mutiny” about Benishek’s announcement at the last Dickinson County GOP meeting.  

A more viable Republican challenger could be former state Sen. Jason Allen, who lost to Benishek in the 2010 primary by just 15 votes . Allen has served as deputy director of the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency since 2011.  

Multiple Republican sources said they haven’t heard about a forthcoming Allen candidacy and said that, as a party loyalist, he would be reluctant to challenge Benishek. That match-up “would seem odd,” added GOP strategist Fred Wszolek, given both men’s Veterans Administration experience. Benishek, a surgeon who worked part time at the VA in Michigan, serves on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.  

Allen did not respond to multiple attempts to contact him about his interest in running this cycle.  

Benishek’s term-limit pledge break is already being featured on the air. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee launched radio ads last week attacking Benishek for backtracking on his term-limit promise.  

Democrats are hoping to win back the northern Michigan-based district, which includes the Upper Peninsula. Democrat Bart Stupak held the seat for nine terms before stepping down in 2010. Retired Army Maj. Gen. Jerry Cannon, who lost to Benishek by 7 points in 2014, is weighing a repeat challenge .  

Benishek made his term-limit promise when first running in 2010 and explained his reasoning for breaking it in a statement last month. “I know that there is more work that must be done to ensure veterans are getting the benefits they have earned,” he said.  

The incumbent’s 2014 victory was an improvement over his miniscule 2012 margin. Mitt Romney carried the district by 8 points in 2012, and President Barack Obama won it by a point in 2008.