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Wednesday, October 20,2010

Benson run gives Dems something to cheer about

by Kyle Melinn

The results are right here so I know it’s legit. Jocelyn Benson, the Democratic nominee for secretary of state, ran the Detroit marathon on Sunday in just over four hours.


Amazing.


It’s not that the svelte 32-year-old pulled off a marathon. Or that she finished with a respectable time. It’s that as a statewide political candidate, Benson found the time to train for this race. And not just this race. Benson has completed 11 marathons in five years, including the Boston Marathon.


How did she find the time to do it?


If you’ve put yourself through one of these torture-chamber races before, you understand. You don’t jog around the block a couple times the week before a race and then bust out 26.2 miles.


Running a marathon takes months of dedicated running. To do it right, you need to pound out one long run of at least 12 or 13 miles. After the stretches and the run and everything else involved, it’s a fourhour investment. And there are the other three to five runs you need to fit in.


Meanwhile, running the high-energy campaign Benson has maintained since February 2009 is a time consuming vacuum. The elections attorney rarely turns down media interviews. She’s campaigning all over the state. She’s on the phone raising money. The Wayne State University professor teaches courses in election law, education law, race and the law, sports and inequality and civil procedure.


In April, Benson announced her new book — “State Secretaries of State: Guardians of the Democratic Process.”


Does this woman have a body double?


How is this all possible?


Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that Benson is quickly becoming the Democrats’ best hope of not getting completely wiped out in November.


According to a poll released last week by Foster, McCollum, White and Associates, Benson is "the one Democratic candidate with a reasonable and short roadmap to victory." Overall, she’s down to her Republican opponent, Ruth Johnson, in the poll, but she is beating Johnson 53.66 to 45.86 percent among absentee voters, propelled by support from "softpartisan" voters. She’s up 16 points in the 12th Congressional District, according to a new Mellman poll.


Considering Benson didn’t start her television advertising until Tuesday and is facing the Republicans’ ’06 lieutenant gubernatorial candidate, the numbers are a bit of a shock.


Johnson, the Oakland County clerk, is fairly popular in her neck of the woods for cracking down on an Intermediate School District debacle years ago and the faux Tea Party just months ago. The story is Johnson was recruited by Republicans to run this year — even though the GOP already had four secretary of state candidates — because she was the GOP’s best match-up against Benson.


The Republicans have tried to torpedo Benson by drawing a comparison between her and Gov. Jennifer Granholm. They are both Harvard-educated, blond women who come originally from out-of-state. (Granholm is a runner, too, for the record).


The key difference is that Benson didn’t have a political godfather like Granholm did in Wayne County Executive Ed McNamara. She showed up at the Democratic State Convention in February 2009 as a complete political unknown.


The insiders knew her because of her "election protection" work in 2006 through ‘08. But the folks sitting in their district conventions didn’t know the peppy Benson when she bounded into their caucus meetings.


They knew that she sounded excited and sounded like she knew her stuff on elections. But surely, a bigger name would throw their name into the ring. "This Benson may not even make it to the August convention" was not an unpopular sentiment.


Month after month went by and nobody else got into the race. Benson kept working it and working it. She went to the chicken dinners. She traveled to every county in the state.


Benson wanted to be secretary of state and not just want it in a sad, obvious political ladder-climbing way. She really wanted to be secretary of state. She had a passion for the job. Would-be opponents saw it and weren’t interested in competing against it.


By the time Detroit Clerk Janice Winfrey threw her hat into the ring on Jan. 26, the race was essentially over. Benson had sewn up so much support, Winfrey didn’t have a chance. Benson thumped the sitting-officeholder from the state’s largest city in a no-doubter convention vote.


More than any other of the forgetful nominees the Democrats have thrown up since Richard Austin, Benson wants this job.


In a likely brutal year for Democrats, Benson may very well be like Granholm in 1998 when she won the attorney general race amid a tidal wave of Republican wins.


It’s another comparison to Granholm that Benson and the Democrats would like to avoid.


(Kyle Melinn is the editor of the MIRS Newsletter. He can be reached at melinn@ lansingcitypulse.com.)

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