Memorial Day weekend began inauspiciously for Michigan Republicans when Secretary of State Ruth Johnson called her old state legislative colleague, Thad McCotter, last Friday afternoon to deliver some shocking news: McCotter, a fifth-term congressman from Livonia, was unlikely to appear on his party’s Aug. 7 primary ballot. The hurdle an incumbent member of Congress must clear to qualify for the primary is not a high one; all that was required of McCotter was to turn in nominating petitions signed by 1,000 voters in his 11th Congressional District. Two college interns stationed outside a half-dozen Lincoln Day dinners might have been able to pull it off. But somehow, McCotter’s campaign had fumbled the ball. A cursory examination by state election officials had concluded that nearly four out of every five signatures McCotter had submitted were invalid. With the May 15 deadline for nominating petitions well past, the GOP’s options were limited.
McCotter, or another well-known Republican, could still mount an expensive write-in campaign. But by Friday evening, it was starting to dawn on party leaders that the only candidate whose name would actually appear on the Republican ballot was Kerry Bentivolio, a 60-year-old tea party zealot who seemed more interested in launching criminal investigations of incumbents in both parties than in doing GOP Speaker John Boehner’s bidding in the U.S. House.
So it might seem odd that when my Free Press colleague Kathleen Gray reached him Friday evening, state Republican Party spokesman Matt Friendeway dismissed McCotter’s petition catastrophe as a minor setback. “We are certain to control this seat,” Friendeway said. “We’re confident in that.”