The national spotlight is turning up the heat in Michigan's 1st Congressional District, as Congressman Dan Benishek prepares to take the Republican National Convention podium this afternoon in Tampa.
Tropical Storm Isaac bumped Benishek's Monday appearance to 3:37 p.m. today, Tuesday, Aug. 28, where he will address the entire convention and be broadcast live on CSPAN across the country.
"I'm so excited," Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, said, speaking to the News-Review before leaving for Florida.
Benishek got the request to speak Aug. 19 via text message from House Speaker John Boehner. "I said 'sure, I'd love to speak,'" he said, recalling the back-and-forth.
The Congressman said he originally hadn't planned on going to the convention, because he was campaigning and working in his district where the race is expected to be extremely close in November.
"I'm working around the district. (The convention) is sort of a distraction. But, now I have a chance to speak and I'm excited about that," he said.
The first-term Congressman categorized the speaking event as the biggest in his career and said he plans to address the economy and jobs in Northern Michigan.
"We've got double digit unemployment up here and that is the main issue of the campaign -- (to) get this economy moving and get the unemployment down and get people back to work," he said.
"I'm frankly honored to have an opportunity to do this," he added.
One key target group for both campaigns has been the large senior citizen population in the 1st Congressional District. More than 22 percent of the population in the district is older than 62 -- 148,152 out of a total population of 656,230, according to the 2010 Census.
While it is unclear whether Benishek will talk at the convention about his support for the Paul Ryan Budget, a point of criticism from Democrats, he was clear about wanting to address Medicare reform directly in the House.
"We're going to look this Medicare issue right in the face," Benishek said. "That's what the Republican plan is and that is good, because people should know the Medicare trust fund is slated to be out of money in the next decade."
Benishek said most voters have only heard the Democratic scare tactics about the reform plan and don't seem to know the basic elements, such as that only people younger than 55 years old would be affected.
But, while Benishek gets national attention his opponent is trying to make is own impact locally.
Former state Rep. Gary McDowell, D-Rudyard, accused Benishek of neglecting his constituents in Northern Michigan during a media conference call Tuesday morning. The Democratic nominee got on the call after holding his own open town hall in the Upper Peninsula to hear concerns from seniors and pledging to oppose Medicare privatization and vouchers.
McDowell said Benishek had decided to go to one of the most partisan events in the country, rather than continue working in his district.
"He should be here," McDowell said. "... He is being rewarded by the powerful party insiders for his votes in lockstep with the establishment and on Medicare in order to give more tax breaks to his wealthy donors."
The Democratic nominee said Benishek has neglected to hold open public town hall meetings with his constituents.
Benishek held 59 "meet-n-greet" events and nine "debt listening tour" town halls with the public in the 31-county district in 2011, according to the annual report published by the Congressman's staff.
The National Republican Congressional Committee also took the offensive Tuesday launching its own Medicare scare ad against Benishek's Democratic opponent. The group used footage of a forum on how to keep Medicare costs low from more than three years ago to paint McDowell as someone who thinks senior health care costs too much at "the end of life."
"We're not going to be able to provide for all the other things we need to do first as a society because we are taking so much money for health care at the end of life," McDowell says in the ad.
But, McDowell was quick to call the quote out of context.
"I think everyone is tired of the same old political attacks that take comments out of context. What we really need to do is come together to protect and strengthen Medicare for seniors -- not force seniors to pay $6,400 a year more for their Medicare like Congressman Benishek voted to," McDowell said in a statement responding to the ad and taking a swipe at Benishek for supporting the Paul Ryan budget.
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