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Rep. Kerry Bentivolio puts up a fight against his own party

Jack Lessenberry

Kerry Bentivolio wants you to know that much of what you’ve heard about him is wrong.

For the last two years, the media has called him the “accidental congressman.” He prefers, unexpected congressman.

He got to Washington after winning the Republican nomination in his suburban Detroit district when the incumbent, Thaddeus McCotter, was tossed off the primary ballot for fraudulent petition signatures. The GOP establishment recruited a former state senator to run a write-in campaign against him in the primary. She lost badly, and Bentivolio went on to win in November.

But this year, he in turn was defeated in the Republican primary by attorney and mortgage foreclosure king David Trott. But Bentivolio is running a full-press write-in campaign to try and keep his job.

Bentivolio has a reputation for not talking to the media, so I was surprised when he called me out of the blue yesterday afternoon. He was genial, warm and witty.

Basically, he feels that Trott and the GOP establishment stabbed him in the back, have worked for two years to ruin his reputation, and he isn’t going to take it anymore.

He is well aware of his image as “Krazy Kerry,” who has been lampooned as a nutty reindeer farmer and part-time Santa Claus.

In fact, he seems himself as a principled conservative whose first and greatest love is constituent service.

At one point, he put a staff member on the phone line, who told me that the two cardinal rules in his office were “transparency” and “never lie.” He also told me that his reputation for shunning the media was the fault of a former campaign manager who never passed along requests for interviews.

"They believe you have to be anointed to run for office - that you are supposed to kiss the ring. That's not how the founding fathers saw this country." - Rep. Kerry Bentivolio

The only bad things Bentivolio had to say were about the GOP establishment.

“They believe you have to be anointed to run for office - that you are supposed to kiss the ring,” he told me, adding, “That’s not how the founding fathers saw this country.”

I told him that some Republicans saw his effort as sour grape resentment, and he admits that he does feel some of that.

Bentivolio also knows that his write-in effort could well help Democratic nominee Bobby McKenzie, but he feels that when a Republican congressman is doing a good job, he doesn’t deserve to be challenged in his own party’s primary.

Not only did Trott do that, but Bentivolio feels he unfairly smeared his reputation.

When he left some of those attacks up on the internet after the primary, Bentivolio announced he would write his own name in “as a shot across his bow.”

But Trott still didn’t take the offending material down, and meanwhile, Bentivolio’s staff members in Washington started hearing they would be blacklisted from new jobs.

That did it.

Kerry Bentivolio, a career army officer and former teacher, is not a wealthy man.

He doesn’t know what he will do if he doesn’t get reelected, and may be looking at personal bankruptcy.

But he told me he felt he’s done his best in Congress, and has never been afraid of a fight. “There’s something flattering when a guy spends $5 million to beat you,” he said of Trott.

This race may end up more interesting than we thought.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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