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Despite agreeing on Trump, 11th Congressional Republican primary race could be bitter and expensive

Tracy Samilton

There was little disagreement about supporting President Donald Trump's agenda at last night's first primary debate among Republicans running for Michigan's 11th Congressional District seat. 
The candidates all support deporting people in the country illegally, and building a wall along the Mexican border. They all like the president's tweets.  At times the debate was about just who supports Trump the most.

Here's candidate Lena Epstein, co-owner of Vesco Oil:

"It was very very important to be loud and early and proud in supporting him," she told the full crowd at Novi's Emagine Theatre.

Other Republican candidates are:

Andrew "Rocky" Razkowski, a former State Representative, who has also run unsuccessfully before for the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate

Former U.S. Congressman Kerry Bentivolio, who held the seat from 2013-15, before he was defeated by David Trott

Klint Kesto, a term-limited state representative who is Chaldean American

Kurt Heise, Plymouth Township supervisor

Kristine Bonds, entrepreneur and daughter of Bill Bonds.

In response to questions from the panel, the candidates all flatly denied that human activity is causing climate change, and they all averred that only American law should be followed in the U.S., rather than Islamic law (Sharia.) 

Virtually all scientists who study the issue agree that carbon in the atmosphere from activities such as transportation, electricity generation, agriculture, and manufacturing is causing the planet to warm. 

It is not clear why the panel asked the candidates about Sharia, since there are no Islamic courts in the United States.

Despite the agreement on issues, the Republican primary campaign is expected to be an expensive one -- and early indications are it could also be hard fought. 

Lena Epstein took off the gloves toward the end of the debate to attack Rocky Razkowski, a former state lawmaker. 

She says her lack of political experience is a plus, not a negative, and says Razkowski has lost too many campaigns to be a viable candidate. And she claims he can't do what she can do: raise enough money to win.

"It's going to be a multi-million dollar primary," says Epstein, "and at this point I am the only candidate that's able to amass the funds necessary to compete directly against any Democrat that they put up come August of 2018."

Razkowski, who lost a U.S. Senate race in 2002 and a U.S. House race in 2010, among others, called Epstein's comment a low blow, and says voters will want more than just a good fundraiser. He says Epstein's focus on money is troubling.

"If they're willing to buy a seat in Congress, then they're willing to be bought off in Congress," said Razkowski.

Razkowski, Epstein and Bentivolio were the three front-runners in the straw poll held directly after the debate.

Bentivolio is a tea party favorite who was a political newcomer when he was elected to Congress in 2013, after the incumbent, Thaddeus McCotter, suddenly withdrew.

That left Bentivolio, a former teacher and Army veteran, the lone Republican name on the ballot. The situation earned him a nickname he hates: the "accidental congressman."

During the debate, Bentivolio touted his 100% rating from the Citizen’s Council Against Government Waste that he won during his term in Congress. 

Then he mocked two Democratic Congresswomen he served with during his short term.  

"I will tell you in all honesty the two biggest problems you have in Washington are Maxine Waters and Nancy Pelosi. They both should see a psychiatrist," he said.

Meanwhile, Democrats that are running in the 11th Congressional District are:

State Representative Tim Greimel

Suneel Gupta, entrepreneur and brother of CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta

Dan Haberman, an attorney and businessman

Haley Stevens, former chief of staff for the Obama Auto Task Force

Fayrouz Saad, former staff member with U.S. Homeland Security under the Obama administration


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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