BUZZFLASH GUEST COMMENTARY
by Susan J. Demas
Some people might be shocked about the carnage in the NY-23, where moderate Republican Dede Scozzafava was just forced out of the way to make room for uber-conservative Doug Hoffman, puppet of the anti-tax group Club for Growth.
I'm not one of them, because I covered the dress rehearsal back in 2006 in the MI-7. This was the start of the Republican civil war, which few people recognized at the time. But with the subsequent federal purges of Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), Reps. Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD) and Heather Wilson (R-NM), and now Scozzafava, it's clear that the Club for Growth-sponsored bloodletting won't be stopping anytime soon.
U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz (R-MI) was in his first term representing a rural southern Michigan district and was named one the top 10 most effective freshmen. The seat was hand-drawn as the second-most conservative in the state with a 57-percent GOP base.
Today, it is represented by U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer, a pro-choice Democrat who has voted repeatedly to raise taxes.
How did this happen?
His name is Tim Walberg. He's a former preacher and fundraiser for the Moody Bible Institute who served as a backbencher Republican state representative (the conservative Detroit News editorial page named him one of the 10 worst House members). But Walberg, who came in third in a six-way GOP primary for the open seat in 2004, could not bring himself to endorse Schwarz like all the others. You see, Schwarz, a state Senate leader for 16 years, a Harvard-trained surgeon, former CIA spy and decorated Vietnam War veteran, did not have the proper resume in Walberg's eyes.
Dr. Schwarz was not sufficiently anti-abortion enough for Walberg, even though he is personally pro-life and has voted that way on most issues. However, he supports Roe v. Wade. He also voted against a gay marriage measure in Congress.
Walberg was incensed. Schwarz wasn't a true Republican, so he told anyone who would listen. But he won anyway in November 2004, with a whopping 58 percent of the vote. Almost immediately, Walberg mounted a challenge against him. Club for Growth helped fill his piggy bank with more than $600,000 to do so. In another parallel with Hoffman, more than three-quarters of Walberg's donors were from out-of-state. Those writing Walberg checks couldn't pick him out of a police lineup or tell you what the main issues were in MI-7. Despite massive job loss in the district, he made the race all about gay marriage, abortion, and illegal immigration. Hoffman also has proven clueless as to NY-23's interests, but then again, he doesn't even live there.
Ads smeared Schwarz as "embarrassingly liberal" and claimed he did nothing but take away people's guns and give homeless people Viagra. It was one of the dirtiest campaigns Michigan has seen in recent history.
But Walberg had a secret weapon on his side. It's the fact that most people skip primaries, except for the activist bases, which tend to be far more conservative or more liberal than the rest of the public. As many districts are gerrymandered, when voters sit out primaries, they essentially forfeit their choice in the election.
So Walberg won the 2006 GOP primary by 6 percent. Club for Growth ended up padding his bank account with more than $1 million, but the right-winger only squeaked out a 4-percent victory in the general election against Democrat Sharon Renier, a chicken farmer who raised about $50,000.
Walberg would go on to be best known for claiming that "in many places, (Baghdad) is as safe and cared for as Detroit," which earned him ridicule from the "Colbert Report."
"That's the way you represent the people of Michigan," Colbert scoffed. "Those tourism dollars must be pouring in."
Schauer saw an opening and challenged Walberg two years later. He eked out a 2.3-percent win thanks to Schwarz's endorsement. A Walberg-Schauer rematch seems likely in 2010. Joe Wilson of "You Lie!" fame has already done a big fundraiser for the far-right Republican.
But no one, not even Mark Schauer, doubts that if Walberg hadn't ousted Joe Schwarz, that the seat would still be in safe Republican hands.
Schwarz, who has gone on to serve on the Pentagon's blue-ribbon panel investigating Walter Reed and spearheading the successful effort to lift Michigan's ban on embryonic stem cell research, compares in a Washington Post op-ed his status as a moderate Republican to that of a woolly mammoth. He told me he has great sympathy for Scozzafava and no love for the Tea Party hordes.
So who would the first casualty of the GOP purge be voting for on Tuesday if he lived in the district? Like Scozzafava, Joe Schwarz would be voting for Democrat Bill Owen.
BUZZFLASH GUEST COMMENTARY
Susan J. Demas writes a weekly syndicated political column reaching 5 million every week, appearing in RealClearPolitics, The Huffington Post, The Detroit News, Lansing State Journal, and eight newspapers for Mlive.com. She serves as a political analyst for Michigan Information & Research Service (MIRS) in Lansing, covering the state Senate and presidential election. She is a 2006 Knight Foundation fellow in The Fourth Estate and the Third Sector program for nonprofits investigative journalism through Marshall University.