Mich. House Race Focuses on Detroit Mayor Scandal

August 5, 2008 - 3:25 PM
Voters on Tuesday weighed whether to nominate the Detroit mayor's mother for another term in Congress, deciding a primary that has focused in large part on a headline-grabbing sex scandal involving the mayor and a former top aide.
Detroit (AP) - Voters on Tuesday weighed whether to nominate the Detroit mayor's mother for another term in Congress, deciding a primary that has focused in large part on a headline-grabbing sex scandal involving the mayor and a former top aide.

Voters also went to the polls in Missouri to pick nominees for governor, and in Kansas and Georgia to decide House and Senate races.

In Michigan, Democratic Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick has faced little opposition since first getting elected to the House in 1996 after nearly two decades in the state Legislature.

But the three-way primary campaign has been the toughest of her congressional career, forcing her to confront questions about Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's conduct and who could best represent the struggling Detroit district.

Because the district is heavily Democratic, the primary winner will be heavily favored in the November general election.

Kwame Kilpatrick, 38, and his former top aide are charged with perjury, misconduct and obstruction of justice - all connected to their testimony in a civil trial last year in which they denied having a romantic relationship.

But those claims have been contradicted by text messages in a scandal that has dominated news coverage in Detroit for months.

During the campaign, challenger Mary Waters has repeatedly referred to the felony charges against the mayor and criticized the congresswoman for defending him. The former state representative released a scathing ad that contrasted the felony charges against the mayor with video of the congresswoman defending her son at a rally.

"The reason she got challenged on that was her own doing," Waters said. "If she had not been out publicly defending his behavior, it wouldn't have happened in the first place."

At a recent forum, the congresswoman said she supports her son and would "raise whatever he needs for his defense - as any mother in this room would do."

The third primary candidate, state Sen. Martha Scott, has downplayed the scandal and argued that focusing on the mayor's troubles will do little to help the district, where many people have struggled with high unemployment and poverty.

Carolyn Kilpatrick has campaigned on her record in Congress, where she serves on the House Appropriations Committee and leads the Congressional Black Caucus.

In Missouri, the state treasurer and a Republican congressman were competing for the GOP nomination to succeed Gov. Matt Blunt, who decided not to seek a second term.

Rep. Kenny Hulshof is the insider, landing the endorsements of virtually every top Republican official in Missouri other than Blunt, who has remained officially neutral. Hulshof also has the backing of the state's most powerful business groups, and the cash advantage to go with it.

Treasurer Sarah Steelman is running as an outsider. She's adopted a "Power to the People" slogan, campaigned by bus on two-lane back roads and sought to turn Hulshof's Washington experience against him.

On the Democratic side, the favorite was Attorney General Jay Nixon, who faced only token opposition.

In Kansas, former Republican Rep. Jim Ryun, a former Olympian who held the world record in the mile for eight years, tried to reclaim the seat he lost in 2006. Ryun, who held the seat for five terms, was opposed by state Treasurer Nancy Jenkins.

In suburban Kansas City, anti-abortion prosecutor Phill Kline faced a tough primary challenge in his bid for a full, four-year term as district attorney of the state's most populous county.

Kline drew national attention with his investigations of abortion clinics when he was Kansas attorney general. He lost his 2006 re-election bid to an abortion rights supporter, but Republicans picked him to fill a vacancy in the Johnson County prosecutor's job. His primary opponent was Steve Howe, a former assistant district attorney.

In Georgia, voters were to decide a runoff between the DeKalb County chief executive and a former state lawmaker in the Democratic race for the Senate.

The county executive, Vernon Jones, and state Rep. Jim Martin were the top voter getters in the state's five-way primary in July. The runoff winner will face Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss in November.