GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Even more exit visas could be imminent for the business and Republican Party establishment leaders who backed Rep. Kerry Bentivolio when he was the GOP’s BAO (Best Available Option) in the 2012 11th Congressional District of Michigan general election.
The nation’s biggest business organization and several Michigan Republican Party leaders have already crossed the border to his competitor, and Bentivolio’s campaign manager is AWOL.
Bentivolio was on the 2012 ballot only because former Rep. Thad McCotter (R-Mich.) failed to qualify for the 2012 GOP primary and unexpectedly resigned his House seat, leaving the man who loves to play Santa Claus at Christmas as the only Republican on the ballot in the Republican-Red metro Detroit district.
At the time, Bentivolio was certainly the BAO. But it is a different year, a different election and a different primary ballot this time around.
Bentivolio and his war chest — which he said had less than $130,000 in it at the end of the first quarter of 2014 — are up against Detroit-area businessman David Trott and his campaign bank account of more than $1 million, as reported at the end of the first three months of 2014. The primary is Aug. 5.
And Bentivolio has personnel problems. His campaign manager walked away May 20. However, this is not all that unusual for the Republican who was named an ACU Conservative by the American Conservative Union in April 2014: Bentivolio is being sued by his 2012 campaign manager for what he claims to be $100,000 in unpaid salary.
Still, the departure of campaign manager David Wolkinson had to hurt, especially since it came six days after the news broke that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is throwing its support behind Trott.
“Dave has a strong record of creating jobs and promoting the principles of free enterprise and leadership in the private sector,” said Rob Engstrom, the Chamber’s senior vice president and national political director, earlier this month. “His experience as a job creator will serve the constituents of the district well and demonstrates his commitment to policies that will produce sustained economic growth and help get our country back on track.”
Desertions by several top Michigan GOP leaders were announced May 22.
Four vice chairs from the Michigan Republican Party endorsed Trott’s campaign for Congress. Three of the vice chairs actually switched their support from Bentivolio to Trott.
“It is important that all of our Republican candidates demonstrate honesty and integrity,” said Michigan GOP Ethnic Vice Chair Linda Lee Tarver. “Dave Trott has been a successful businessman who has conducted himself with honesty and integrity. He is exactly the type of candidate that our party needs, and that is why I am proud to announce my support for his candidacy.”
Michigan GOP Youth Vice Chair Blake Edmonds said, “People of my generation are seeking conservative leaders that we can look up to and respect. Dave Trott is the kind of leader that young Republicans can rally behind. That is why I am honored to join Dave and his team.”
“As I travel around the state building our party, I am constantly elevating our Republican leaders as role models for conservative values,” said Kelly Mitchell, MIGOP Outreach Vice Chair. “It has become clear that Dave Trott is that role model in the 11th District. Dave has been a successful businessman, helped Republican candidates, and fought to grow our party.”
Bentivolio has been on the far right of the Republican House caucus. Speaking on the floor of the House, he said “extreme liberal Democrats” who reminded him of “spoiled children having a tantrum” caused the October 2013 government shutdown and told supporters in August 2013 the impeachment of President Obama “would be a dream come true.”
Big Business plotting against the Tea Party in Michigan and bolting from Bentivolio could be seen in late 2013. Although he was not talking about the incumbent congressman specifically, Sandy Baruah, the president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, said the Tea Party had left the business community without a political party to talk to in Washington.
“It used to be that you could talk to the Richard Lugars and the Bob Packwoods. Now there’s only a handful of people that you can talk to.”
“This new brand of tea party Republican is not, for the most part, someone who represents the average business owner or the average business executive who is trying to do things like improve the country’s infrastructure, who is concerned about higher education and education in general, who is looking for a rational immigration system, but still is looking for sane spending controls and his concerned about our national debt,” Baruah said. “There is not a party anymore that fills those buckets.”
Bentivolio, who not only plays Santa but raises his own reindeer and has been called “mentally unbalanced” by his brother, was upsetting even his Tea Party supporters in late 2013.
Nick Kennedy, who owns a janitorial contracting company and is a self-declared Tea Party supporter, shared a stage with Bentivolio in 2012 and was one of his original supporters. But by October 2013 Kennedy had changed his mind.
Kennedy is backing Trott in the 2014 midterm election because “he is a product of the private sector like myself. When you talk to him you realize that he ‘gets’ it.”
“Bentivolio is weak,” Kennedy said. “He is wanting to be liked and I believe he has joined the establishment. All he talks about is smoking cigars with (John) Boehner.”
And Kennedy is no fan of the speaker of the House. “The fish rots from the head down,” he said.