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Can Dan Benishek Beat Bart Stupak?

4:20 PM, Mar 31, 2010 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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There's nothing Obamacare opponents would love more than to beat Bart Stupak after he agreed in the 11th hour to deliver the crucial votes for a health care bill that didn't include his amendment to prevent taxpayer-funding of abortion. Dan Benishek, a general surgeon for 27 years in Northern Michigan, hopes to be the one to do the deed. A newcomer to politics, Benishek didn't even have a website set up when Stupak announced he would vote for the health care bill. Since then Benishek has quickly capitalized on what many believe to be Stupak's betrayal and is well on his way to raising $219,000 online at www.dropstupak.com.

Money will help, but Benishek certainly has his work cut out for him. Obama narrowly won the district 50% to 48% in 2008, but Stupak cruised to reelection in 2008 by 22 points (65% to 33%). He survived his first reelection campaign back in the 1994 Republican Revolution by taking 57% of the vote--even after he voted for the unpopular Clinton budget.

But Benishek thinks Stupak's decision to cave on an issue of moral principle could cost him his seat this time around. "We were thrust into the national spotlight by Bart’s betrayal on abortion," Benishek tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD. "I didn’t really [decide to] run against him on that issue because we were both on the same side." Or so Benishek thought, before Stupak “betrayed his constituency on their most important issue.”

Benishek says he got into the race back in January to stop the "ungodly spending" in Washington, and he still plans to make jobs the number one issue in a district particularly hard hit by the recession.

Benishek highlights the fact that he's never been involved in politics, which is a strength in the current anti-Washington environment but also a potential weakness when it comes to articulating his beliefs. Dr. Benishek can ably argue that we need to increase "competition amongst insurance companies" and that the health care law "doesn't do anything to cut the cost of health care. It's just another layer of government regulation on top of what we have. It's just going to be a disaster. There's all kinds of hidden loopholes in it, just like the stimulus."

But at other times his messaging can get off track. Discussing the hidden costs runaway malpractice suits have created in the health care system, Benishek says:

"A nurse spends half of her time--maybe more than half of her time--simply documenting what she did on a chart. The way the law is now, if you didn’t document it you didn’t do it. So the nurse writes 'I washed between the patient's toes at 4:27 p.m.' They have to document every single thing they do."

As an afterthought, Benishek adds that "hidden costs" also include "all these [unnecessary] tests we have to order" to defend against lawsuits. That point would appear to be a more effective message than arguing that nurses shouldn't have to document what they do. In Benishek's own words, he sometimes he gets "passionate" and will go off on a "rant." 

As an outsider, Benishek speaks his mind, at times bluntly. Noting that Stupak had said his earmark requests coinciding with his health care vote were unrelated, Benishek says: “Can you imagine the duplicity of that?”

Though Benishek is raking in lots of money off the anti-Stupak fervor, it's not clear at this point that he'll end up being the GOP nominee. As Jim Geraghty reported last week:

A Washington Republican who is closely watching developments in the state thinks more challengers may yet appear; other Michigan Republicans in office are eager to find the right candidate, and are examining “term-limited state senators.” The lawmakers who fit that description in Michigan’s 1st district include Jason Allen of Traverse City, Tony Stamas of Midland, and Michelle McManus of Lake Leelanau (currently running for secretary of state). The filing deadline for federal office in Michigan is May 11.

But if Benishek can learn how to hone his message, as an outsider and a surgeon opposed to Obamacare, he may prove to be the most formidable Republican for the job.

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