Home News  DeWeese vs. Rogers: Who's the Democrat?
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Wednesday, September 30,2009

DeWeese vs. Rogers: Who's the Democrat?

by Kyle Melinn

Bob Alexander had dreams of grandeur. He was going to run against U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers in 2010. And this time, his third time, was going to be the charm. The Democratic activist was going to win.

I wrote about his vision earlier this year — how he was going to finally knock off the five-term Republican incumbent, who first won his seat in 2000 by 123 votes.

But this summer, he spent a of couple days in Washington, where the East Lansing political activist was given the cold shoulder. Instead of getting a slap on the back and bags full of cash, he got a pat on the head.

That did it for Alexander. He said he's out.

That leaves the local Democratic operation looking for a name on the ballot, and that's about it.

The local, state or national party isn't throwing a lot of bucks at the 8th Congressional District, made up of Ingham, Clinton, Livingston, southern Shiawassee and northern Oakland counties.

For one thing, all signs point to a slight comeback for Republicans in 2010. The Democrats let the Rs seriously outflank them on the national health care issue, as shown by those explosive town hall forums. Tea parties are all the rage. And the party of a first-term president usually sees a hit in the first congressional election following the inauguration.

So with Alexander out, who steps into the slaughterhouse to face this county's most popular Republican?

Enter former Republican Paul DeWeese.

The former state House member from Williamston — who gave then-state Rep. Virg Bernero a run for his money in 2002 for the state senate — recently turned in his red Republican stripes for blue ones, and all signs from the Ingham County Democratic apparatus is that he's itching to get back on the ballot.

At first, the emergency room doc made some rumblings about taking another stab at that 23rd state Senate seat when/if Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, wins the attorney general nomination.

Pigs will fly first. A former Republican convincing dyed-in-the-wool Democrats that he's so much one of them that he should be their party's nominee for the safely Democratic seat? Over someone like a Barb Byrum, who has had Democratic blood running through her veins since birth? Or the fantastically competent liberal Mark Meadows, both of whom serve in the House?

No, the local Democrats are having a hard time trusting DeWeese, a guy who tried to run to the right in the 7th Congressional District election in 2004 and got stuffed at the line of scrimmage.

If DeWeese wants to earn his Democratic stripes, he needs to prove that he's a true convert. That means putting on the sacrificial lamb costume and publicly pronouncing Democratic beliefs.

"He has been making the rounds quite a bit among local Dem circles," said one local Democratic insider. "He is itching to get back into politics, but there's not a lot of trust there, yet."

DeWeese made some connections within the African-American churches in '02 and still has some name ID. If he is able to make Rogers or the Republicans spend some money in the 8th District, he may earn that trust.

Realistically, whether Rogers kicks his rear with 60 or 55 percent of the vote doesn't matter. What matters is how seriously DeWeese takes the race and how good he sounds and looks doing it.

That could open doors for DeWeese down the road if other opportunities popped up.

That may seem like a small reward for Lansing Democrats, who are tired of a right-wing Republican representing their interests in Washington, but keep in mind that '10 may be the last time you see Rogers' name on the ballot for Congress.

Our state's congressional maps will be redrawn in 2011 and the chances that Rogers' district either will not include Ingham or not exist at all are pretty good. With Michigan losing at least one congressional seat, someone is going to be left without a chair when the music stops.

That means our next member of Congress is just as likely to be U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer, D-Battle Creek, or U.S. Rep. Dale Kildee, D-Flint, as it is Rogers.

And it could also mean that we may see Rogers on the ballot running for a different office in '12 — U.S. Senate. But let's get too far ahead of ourselves.

(Kyle Melinn is the editor of the MIRS Newsletter. His column appears weekly


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