Dr. Dan Benishek was flipping the channels between the Michigan State basketball game and Fox News last night when the phone calls started coming through.
The Republican doctor running for a seat in Congress representing Michigan’s Upper Peninsula area had just become a Tea Party hero — and he wasn’t prepared. More than $20,000 in campaign donations poured in Sunday night alone. Benishek’s secret? He’s running against Bart Stupak, the eight-term Democrat whose last-minute deal allowed President Obama’s health-care legislation to pass.
“It’s hard to sort it all out, to tell you the truth, because I’m not a pro at this,” Benishek told The Daily Caller. “I’m just a regular person.”
Benishek, who has never run for office, doesn’t have a campaign Web site (for now, a Facebook page that has increased from 700 to 14,000 followers will do) or staff for that matter (his wife is taking press calls while he searches for a campaign manager). But by late last night, the RNC had stepped in and set up a PayPal account for him so he could raise money online.
“I didn’t have an online way to get any money, so they were all upset with me. But I got something up finally late last night and I don’t know, it’s just been unbelievable, the support,” Benishek said. “I’m not sure if it’s support for me or just hatred for Bart Stupak. But a lot of people saw what I stood for on Facebook, at least, and seemed to connect with that, with my bio and position statement, so I was overwhelmed by the support.”
NRCC spokesman Tom Erickson said in an email that GOP strategists in Washington began talks with the Benishek campaign on Monday. “Bart Stupak needs to be held accountable for selling out to Nancy Pelosi and President Obama,” Erickson said. “We’re happy to work with any Republican who’s willing to help us put Stupak out of a job this November.”
Benishek said the NRCC is encouraged because Stupak, who has been in office since 1993, “betrayed and “flip-flopped” on abortion. “One of the few issues that tied Bart to his constituency was his pro-life stance. His votes on a lot of the others issues are very liberal.”
Benishek concedes he has got his work cut out for him, as he’s just getting started introducing himself to the voters. “The people have to vote for me,” he explained. “Not the people who write me and say stuff about me on the blogs in Arizona … I certainly appreciate that and I certainly appreciate the financial help, but I have to still communicate with the constituents here.”
Benishek said it’s been “daunting” because he’s “been getting a lot of advice from people, contradictory advice.” “So that’s been a little bit of a problem. I don’t know exactly how to proceed. I just have to give it my best judgment and move forward,” he said.
It’s a big job for a political neophyte. “I just want to do a good job,” the new candidate explained. “I just can’t believe what’s going on. I’m trying my best to be good.”