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Published: Sunday, 7/23/2006

Michigan's 7th a hot seat

By any sane measure, the current congressman from Michigan's 7th District, which stretches from Lenawee County to Battle Creek, would be considered a conservative. Rep. John J. "Joe" Schwarz, a Republican from Battle Creek, is a staunch supporter of the war in Iraq. A medical doctor, he had tours of duty in Indochina with both the Navy and the CIA.

A salty, bearlike man and a dedicated railroad buff, Mr. Schwarz opposes gay marriage, and has been heartily endorsed for re-election by both President Bush and Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Vice President Dick Cheney and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich have campaigned for his re-election this year, as has Mr. McCain.

But that's not enough for some on the far right, including former State Rep. Tim Walberg, a fundamentalist preacher from Tipton who is challenging the congressman in the Aug. 8 primary. Mr. Walberg, who was defeated by Mr. Schwarz in a crowded primary field two years ago, calls his opponent a "liberal," and says his values are out of touch with the district.

"That's just plain nuts," says Mr. Schwarz. What most bothers Mr. Walberg is that the congressman believes abortion should be "safe, legal, and rare." And while Mr. Schwarz doesn't want to legalize gay marriage, he also thinks the way to handle that is not with a constitutional amendment.

During his 16 years in the Michigan Senate he was universally regarded as the legislative expert on the state's universities. As a congressman, he thinks Michigan needs to adequately fund education but he adds that "a tax cut is not always the solution to every problem."

Such heresy has caused the Club for Growth, a Washington, D.C.-based organization devoted to free market economics, to pour vast sums into the Walberg campaign. As a result, the race has become one of the most intensely watched congressional races in the country.

Should Joe Schwarz lose, it will not only embarrass the President, it will demonstrate to many observers that there is no place for even moderate liberals in the Michigan GOP.

Oddly enough, it might also be an unexpected windfall for Democrats, who are scratching hard to pick up enough seats to take control of the U.S. House. While the 7th District is Republican, it is reasonably moderate, despite Mr. Walberg's claims. It voted for President Clinton, and Mr. Schwarz managed only 58 percent last time against a Democrat with no money.

Ironically, if Republicans end up ousting the incumbent in the primary, the result could be the election of a real liberal in November.



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