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Published: Sunday, 8/8/2004

GOP victor has little time to savor win

BY FRITZ WENZEL
BLADE POLITICAL WRITER
Joe Schwarz talks on the phone to Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) the morning after Mr. Schwarz won the Michigan GOP primary for the 7th Congressional District. Joe Schwarz talks on the phone to Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) the morning after Mr. Schwarz won the Michigan GOP primary for the 7th Congressional District.
SCOTT ERSKINE / AP Enlarge

At a time when many people are thinking about retirement, Joe Schwarz is looking forward to a new adventure.

As the newly crowned Republican nominee for Michigan's 7th congressional district seat that represents part or all of seven counties in the south-central part of the state and leans toward the GOP, Mr. Schwarz, 66, is getting ready for the fall campaign against Democrat Sharon Renier of Munith, Mich., northeast of Jackson.

The first item on his to-do list? Go fishing.

Not that many could blame him. The only moderate in a six-way primary election, he took a political beating from his opponents, but in the end was the survivor. His opponents ganged up on him at public forums, complaining about his stances on "guns, gays, and abortion," he said, but they split the substantial conservative support in the district, leaving him the victor.

Of 67,875 votes cast in the Republican primary, he won just under 30 percent. He said he is well aware that, had he been running against a conservative, he might have lost, as he did when running for the same seat 12 years ago.

"If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we'd all have a Merry Christmas," Mr. Schwarz said Wednesday. "In fact, there were six candidates. None of them chose to get out. There were no shrinking violets among them, and I think that someone who was in that race who was able to pull 29 percent in a six-person race with six pretty strong candidates did pretty well," he said.

"The dynamic would indeed have been different had there been fewer candidates, but the fact of the matter is that there weren't. And if I had to deal with a different situation than the one that I did in fact deal with, our strategy would have been different. But I don't think for a minute that I would have lost."

He did lose in a primary election for the same seat 12 years ago, against conservative Republican Nick Smith, who is now retiring. Nick Smith's son, Brad, was one of those five opponents Mr. Schwarz defeated.

The district includes the rolling farmland, vacation properties, and small cities in Lenawee, Hillsdale, Branch, Calhoun, Jackson, Eaton, and Washtenaw counties. It is bordered by Battle Creek to the west, Ann Arbor to the east, Lansing to the north, and Ohio to the south.

With the Republican nomination in hand, don't look for Mr. Schwarz to change his stance on controversial issues to better match his more conservative constituents. Instead, he said, he will go on the offensive.

"I am going to go out into the district and sell myself to the people who maybe think that I'm too moderate," he said. "I would make the point to them that I am not too moderate. I am a classic fiscal conservative. I am a budget hawk, and the people who were campaigning so hard against me were campaigning on the guns, gays, and abortion, and I don't think it germane to what's going on in the United States right now.

"I am their candidate now," he said. "I am willing to reach out to anyone. There are usually more points of agreement than disagreement."

A former mayor of Battle Creek who has also served as a state senator, Mr. Schwarz is used to being the unpopular one in his own party.

He was chairman of Arizona Sen. John McCain's 2000 presidential campaign in Michigan, when virtually all of the state party's leadership was behind Texas Gov. George W. Bush, and helped engineer an upset victory over the governor four years ago that nearly derailed the Texan's campaign.

Once he was certain of the election results early Wednesday morning, Mr. Schwarz said he placed a call to Mr. McCain to let him know he had won.

By professional training, Mr. Schwarz is a physician with an active practice in Battle Creek.

Ms. Renier, who has worked as an educator and a paralegal and also is an expert in organic farming, has emphasized the need to protect civil liberties in her campaign to win the Democratic Party nomination.

"Our most precious freedoms should not ever be weakened in any way. We should be protected from government spying against our persons, through our mail, our magazine subscriptions, our library usage, and with persons whom we associate," states her Web site. "Our right to be advised of any charges against us, our right to representation by counsel and judgment by a jury of our peers should not be abrogated in any way. These are the basic rights of all United States citizens and must be continually protected."

She said during a recent debate at a high school in Jackson that she favors a new Equal Rights Amendment for women. Congress in 1972 passed the amendment and sent it to the states for ratification, but it failed to win the support of 38 states before its deadline passed.

Ms. Renier, 48, won 52 percent of the vote in her primary, defeating two opponents. She said yesterday she believes her philosophy fits the district.

With the primary campaign now over, this is probably the last opportunity for Mr. Schwarz to get to his house in Flat Head Lake, Mont., to take a break, and visit family and friends before the fall campaign ramps up. By the time the November election is over, weather in Montana will have changed dramatically, making fishing difficult. By then, Mr. Schwarz's schedule may have changed dramatically, making fishing trips impossible.

Contact Fritz Wenzel at: fritz@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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