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A visit to Michigan Representative Gary McDowell’s campaign web site, and a casual observer comes away with the impression that Democrat McDowell is a folksy fellow who supports K-12 education, and is concerned with trade, healthcare and the right to keep and bear arms. State Representative McDowell, who was first elected to the Michigan 107th District House seat in 2004, wants to represent Michigan’s 1st Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives—a seat vacated by U.S. Representative Bart Stupak.

On his campaign web site, McDowell stresses his background as a farmer. Visitors to the site read this: “For most of my life, I have started my summer by going out to our family’s fields and cutting hay — just as so many families here in the Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan have done for generations.”

This Gary McDowell is a native of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a hay farmer who owns a 1,000 acre spread with his brothers, a member of the Lion’s Club in his hometown of Rudyard, Michigan, a hamlet with just 1,300 residents.

The campaign web site, however, paints a deceptively Norman Rockwell-like picture of Old McDowell.

His state race campaign finance records paint a portrait of a politico who’s less Norman Rockwell and more Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf. The records also provide tantalizing clues to as why, perhaps, Gary McDowell may have been tapped by the National Democratic Party to try to keep Stupak’s seat in the Dem family. In 2008, McDowell raised $93,916 dollars to run against a Republican challenger who scraped together just $2,575. That year, it was McDowell’s top donors that should give pause. They included the Washington, DC-based International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Kathy Angerer Leadership Fund, Michigan Health and Hospital Association, UPS, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Michigan Association of Health Plans, Blue Cross of Michigan and the Michigan Medical Society. In 2008, McDowell collected 196 donations, 40 of which came from Lansing-based PACs and political committees, and totaled close to half of the $93,916 he raised.

In his 2006 state House re-election bid, Gary McDowell raised $256,288 and beat back a Republican challenger who’d raised $317,402. That year, McDowell enjoyed several $5,000 hugs from the political funds of new Lansing pals Andy Dillon, Alma Wheeler-Smith, Kathy Angerer, and Andy Meisner. To put this into perspective, in 2006 Representative Alma Wheeler-Smith gave McDowell the same amount from her Take Back PAC, that she gave to daughter-in-law, Rebekah Warren for her 2006 run for the 53rd House seat. After just two terms in office, Farmer McDowell revealed himself to be a fundraising savant, a politico who could land big donations from PACs, lawyers, lobbyists and other Lansing heavy hitters. McDowell did all this in a year in which the average candidate for the Michigan House raised $37,530.

As of July 14, 2010, according to campaign finance informationfiled with the Federal Election Committee, McDowell had raised $146,835 dollars and spent just over $15,000. Of that, over half had been donated by PACs. His Republican opponent, in contrast, has raised $449,090, 68.2 percent of which had been donated by individuals. Interestingly, both candidates had just about the same amount of cash on hand as of July 14th, $130,000. The FEC donor records also hint that the national Democratic Party considers McDowell’s race important. On June 30, 2010, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) in Washington, DC funneled four donations totaling $14,500 to McDowell’s campaign war chest.

The reason for the DCCC’s interest in McDowell’s candidacy, and the donations from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee are obvious. In an August 8, 2010 post to  CQPolitics, Roll Call contributor Stuart Rosenberg writes, “For Democrats, Rep. Bart Stupak’s retirement couldn’t have come at a worse time.” Rosenberg goes on to write, “Competitive open seats usually follow the direction of the overall cycle, so with House Republicans poised for large gains, it should be no surprise that most of the open seats that flip will be headed their way. The districts at the top of the list are more likely to flip, with at least the first half-dozen looking like no-brainers.”

McDowell’s race, however, was not among Rosenberg’s “no-brainers.”

If past state races are any indication, over the next 6-8 weeks we can expect McDowell to more than double and possibly triple the amount he has raised thus far, and we can expect him to tap political pals from the Michigan House, more PACs and other political committees. Furthermore, if his 2006 Michigan House race is any indication, the fact that McDowell’s Republican opponent has, thus far, significantly out-paced him in fundraising is no guarantee that Stupak’s seat will be among those that Republicans will flip on November 3rd.

Though Representative Gary McDowell may start his summers making hay when the sun shines, his fundraising track record demonstrates that Old McDowell is no political hayseed.

Originally posted to A2Politico on Thu Aug 26, 2010 at 10:37 AM PDT.

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