Running for First

The race for northern Michigan’s seat in U.S. Congress is expected to be one of the most fiercely competitive in the nation in 2016.

Check in with Running for First for groundbreaking reporting on candidates, issues and campaign finance questions.

Jack Bergman, a former three-star Marine Corps general running for Congress in northern Michigan, wants to “get the budget under control” on day one if elected.

The Republican recently entered the race in Michigan’s competitive 1st Congressional District. The district includes the northern third of lower Michigan and all of the Upper Peninsula.

“Congress needs to start working together, negotiating the tough decisions,” Bergman told IPR News Radio in an interview last week.

There’s a new Republican in the race for northern Michigan’s seat in U.S. Congress — a former three-star general named Jack Bergman. The retired Marine Corps officer says he will soon officially register to run in the competitive 1st Congressional District.

“Marines don’t come to just kind of finish second,” Bergman says. “Marines come to win.”

Bergman is a political unknown, but he’s running in a district - and in an election year - when an outsider could have success.

Jack Bergman, a retired Marine Corps general from the western Upper Peninsula, is entering the race for northern Michigan’s seat in U.S. Congress. The republican says he plans to file paperwork with the Federal Election Commission sometime in the next two weeks.

“Marines don’t come to just kind of finish second,” Bergman says. “Marines come to win.”

A yooper has represented northern Michigan in U.S. Congress for decades — a tradition that state Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) wants to continue. Casperson is running to fill the seat that Rep. Dan Benishek is vacating in the 1st Congressional District. Casperson sat down with IPR News Radio for an interview last week.

“The overreach from the federal government has caused problems we’re faced with here in northern Michigan,” Casperson says. “I’m one that’s convinced that most of the governing should take place at the state level.”

Former Kalkaska County Sheriff Jerry Cannon has some ground to make up on the campaign trail in northern Michigan’s hotly contested First Congressional District. In December, Cannon spent more than three weeks recuperating in a Traverse City hospital, after his car slid off an icy road near his home in Fife Lake.

Cannon is only now getting back to his campaign.

This is the second time the Democrat has run in the First Congressional District. Cannon lost in 2014 to incumbent Rep. Dan Benishek.

“We’re trying to build on the success that we achieved in 2014,” Cannon says.

He says the political winds are blowing in his favor this election cycle.

“There’s a lot of disenchantment with the establishment and people who are career politicians,” Cannon, a Democrat, told IPR News Radio in an interview. “And that’s not me. I’m a career public servant. I’m not an insider. I’m not connected. I’m not big money.”

Lon Johnson for Congress

Congressional candidate Lon Johnson is calling for the oil pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac to be shut down while an independent investigation is conducted.

“If we were to have an accident there, the cost would be immeasurable to our ecology, to our economy, to our health,” Johnson told IPR News Radio in an interview last week.

Enbridge’s Line 5 runs across the Straits, and has drawn criticism from environmental groups who worry about the age of the 63-year old pipe. Enbridge says the crossing is safe.

Lon Johnson, the former chairperson of the Michigan Democratic Party, is running for northern Michigan’s seat in U.S. Congress. He led Michigan Democrats for two years, from 2013-2015, before announcing he was jumping into the race for the First Congressional District.

Lon Johnson for Congress

Lon Johnson, a Democrat running for northern Michigan’s seat in U.S. Congress, raised more than three time as much money as all the other candidates combined in 2015. His total was $625,723, according to an end-of-the-year filing report with the Federal Election Commission.

“His fundraising numbers so far are looking pretty solid for him,” says Craig Mauger, executive director of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. Mauger covers political spending across the state.

U.S. Army

President Obama’s record on national defense is a campaign issue in 2016. Some Republicans say the U.S. Army and Navy will be too small at the end of the Obama administration. Presidential hopeful Ted Cruz recently attacked the president for having “dramatically degraded our military.”

A candidate for northern Michigan’s seat in U.S. Congress is also using this argument. Last month, former state legislator Jason Allen kicked off his congressional campaign at his family’s clothing store in Traverse City.

“I’m very concerned about the direction America is heading,” Allen said.

When asked by IPR News Radio why he had decided to run, Allen said the first issue on his list was the drop in troop levels, and he made a bold statement about just how large those reductions are.

“First of all from a national defense perspective, we’ll have the smallest military since before the first World War,” Allen said.

David Cassleman

Former state legislator Jason Allen, R-Traverse City, has announced he is trying again to win northern Michigan's seat in US Congress. Allen came within 15 votes of winning the Republican primary for the 1st Congressional District in 2010.

"I'm very concerned with the direction America is heading," Allen says. "First of all, from a national defense perspective, we'll have the smallest military since before the first World War."

He spoke with IPR News Radio's David Cassleman about why he is running.

U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek surprised voters in northern Michigan last week when he announced he's retiring at the end of this term. That decision has also piqued interest among possible Republican candidates for the 1st Congressional District.

"We don't know for sure who is definitely going to run just because the filing deadline is a while away and this news was unexpected," says Rick Pluta, the Capitol bureau chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network.

But Pluta does have the names of some Republicans who are interested in making a run for U.S. Congress:

Northern Michigan's U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek has decided not to run again in 2016, months after announcing he would be seeking a fourth term.

Michigan Radio's It's Just Politics co-hosts Rick Pluta and Zoe Clark break down the news that Lon Johnson, Chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, is considering a run in Michigan's 1st Congressional District in 2016. 

Michigan Democratic Party

The race for northern Michigan's congressional seat is starting to take shape. In March, Rep. Dan Benishek said he would run for a fourth term, despite his pledge of support for term limits in 2010.

Now, Lon Johnson – the chair of the Michigan Democratic Party – says he might run, too.

"A number of people have asked me to consider running for Congress," Lon Johnson told Rick Pluta, Capitol bureau chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network last week.

"I'm considering it."


Not even five months after winning a third term, the Michigan republican has made plans to run for a fourth.

“I’m happy to serve the people of northern Michigan if they’ll have me," Benishek told IPR News on Tuesday. "And I’ve decided that I’m going to try to stay a little longer.”

Benishek had made a pledge in 2010 in favor of term limits – saying he supported "a three-term limit on members of Congress."

The race for northern Michigan’s U.S. House seat was one of the most closely contested elections in the state in 2012.

Republican Dan Benishek won reelection by less than half a percentage point. Once again he's facing strong competition as the November election approaches – this time from a retired Army National Guard general.