Editor's Note: In the final 100 days before Election Day, CNN has been profiling one race at random each day from among the nation's top 100 House races, which we've dubbed "The CNN 100." Read the full list here. Today's featured district is:
MI-01: Rep. Bart Stupak is retiring
Primary: August 3, 2010
Location: Michigan's Upper Peninsula, northern part of the Southern Peninsula
Days until the election: 24
Two political newcomers are battling it out for the Michigan seat long held by nine-term Democrat Rep. Bart Stupak.
Stupak announced his retirement earlier this year after he became an early target of the Tea Party Express. The group launched a brutal campaign to unseat the socially conservative, anti-abortion congressman after he announced he would vote for the health care bill. The Tea Party Express, which would later help propel little-known conservative candidates in Alaska and Delaware to primary wins over establishment-backed incumbents, accused Stupak of abandoning his pro-life principles.
So far, however, the abortion debate and the Tea Party movement seem to have taken a back seat in the race between Democratic state Rep. Gary McDowell and Republican Dan Benishek.
Most of Stupak's detractors came from outside of his moderate district, and his seat was considered safe despite his controversial vote. Notwithstanding Stupak's 18-year tenure, this district, which makes up nearly half of Michigan, has proven to be politically capricious in the past. Though former President Bush carried the district in both 2000 and 2004, President Obama narrowly won in 2008.
Now Stupak's retirement has left an open field in a largely rural district with a constituency that tends to favor a strong work ethic over political affiliation. Mentions of political experience are scant from either campaign – a sign that the candidates are not impervious to the rabid anti-incumbent mood sweeping the country. Rather, both McDowell and Benishek have been touting their hands-on business know-how and blue collar credentials. While McDowell frequently evokes his long career as a former United Parcel Service driver and family farmer, Benishek describes himself as "a career surgeon, not a career politician."
It seems though, that as in many other parts of the country, simply having a "D" after his name might prove toxic to McDowell, as the Republican in this race has been steadily gaining in political clout. The National Republican Congressional Committee elevated Benishek in August to "contender" status in its "Young Guns" recruitment program, and several recent polls show him with a comfortable lead over McDowell.
Political handicapper Charlie Cook has rated the race "Lean Republican," yet another indication that Michigan-01's long blue streak may be coming to an end.