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Strange-but-true 11th Congressional race gets stranger

Voters in the 11th Congressional District in Michigan will send a Democratic UAW activist to Congress for the lame duck session in November and December -- and a Republican Tea Party activist to Congress for the full term starting in January.

Here's how it happened.  (The "why" may never be satisfactorily answered.)

Thaddeus McCotter is the five-term Republican Congressman who until July represented the strongly Republican-leaning 11th Congressional District. 

He almost certainly would have won a sixth term - were it not for the mind-boggling antics of some of his key staff, who cut and pasted old signatures onto the nominating petitions to get him on the August primary and regular election ballots.

He resigned in July over the scandal, catapulting a Tea Party protest candidate named Kerry Bentivolio to the top of the Republican ticket.

Bentivolio quickly got his name onto the ballot for the special election, too.

But his Democratic opponent in the regular election, Syed Taj, didn't.

Democrat David Curson, a former UAW, ran in the special election.

When Bentivolio won by a healthy margin against Taj, most people assumed he'd beaten Curson, too.

But late-counted Wayne County votes handed Curson the win for the lame duck session.

Curson says he ran specifically because he wants to help Congress find a solution for the so-called "fiscal cliff," in which automatic across-the-board budget cuts and tax increases go into effect if there is a failure to reach a compromise (or a deal to kick the budget problem down the road.)

A compromise may involve tax increases on at least some Americans.

Bentivolio has pledged not to vote to raise taxes, for any reason.

Bentivolio won the race for the full-term despite a series of damaging articles about his past published by the Detroit Free Press.   The Free Press reports that Bentivolio left his last full-time job as a teacher after he was reprimanded for telling his high school students, "You're nothing but a paycheck to me," and "My goal is to make each one of you cry," and similar incidents.

Bentivolio also had a construction business that went bankrupt. 

He currently owns a Santa Claus for hire business, complete with real reindeer, which he keeps on his farm in Milford.

In the last two weeks of the campaign, an estranged brother told a Lansing publication that Bentivolio was mentally ill.

But another brother, Mark Bentivolio, told Michigan Radio the claim is not true.  Mark Bentivolio says the brother making the claim is a loner, and was trying to make trouble because he felt Bentivolio owed him money.

Democrat Syed Taj, the Canton Township Trustee who ran for the full-term, used information from the Free Press stories in attack ads, calling Bentivolio "too extreme," for the district.

For its part, Bentivolio's campaign made much of a Taj fundraiser hosted by a member of the Detroit chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.   Taj is also a Muslim, and ads run  on behalf of Bentivolio claimed Taj planned to use his position in Congress to support Sharia law in the United States.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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