The State Senate campaign in the 35th District is shaping up to be quite a battle between three well known lawmakers in the Republican primary.
Former State Representatives Ray Franz and Bruce Rendon are running, and that was the race most political observers expected to see in the battle to replace State Sen. Darwin Booher, who can not run again because of term limits.
Then State Rep. Curt VanderWall entered the fray, changing everything.
VanderWall, a legislator from the Ludington area who owns a lawn business, decided against running for another term in the House, instead opting for the Senate seat.
A new poll released today by Strategic National shows the three are tied as the race heads into the summer.
Rendon was supported by 19% of those surveyed while VanderWall and Franz each received 18%. Cary Urka had 5%, and 40% of voters were still undecided.
"Voters in Northern Michigan are deciding who will replace term limited State Senator Darwin Booher in the August primary, and it's currently anyone's race," said Strategic National CEO John Yob in a press release."This will be one of the state's most watched campaigns of the 2018 cycle."
The Strategic National survey was conducted May 5-6 and included 350 likely Republican Primary voters. The poll has a 5.2% margin of error.
Franz, a Vietnam Veteran who served in the House from 2011-2017, used to own a grocery store.
Franz attended the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in 2016 as a delegate for Ted Cruz, and is running on a platform of " small government values and cutting state spending." Before his time in the House, he was the Onekama Village Council President.
Rendon, like Franz, served in the House from 2011-2017.
A Ferris State graduate, Rendon's business experience includes owning a construction company.
His website says Rendon is running to bring "Northern Michigan Values" to Lansing.
"Our state is finally moving toward a more prosperous future, but there is still work to be done," Rendon says. "As we continue the long term commitment to making our state a place where our children and grandchildren can succeed, you deserve someone who understands our Northern Michigan values".
Financially, VanderWall is in the best position so far.
In the fundraising battle, Ray Franz's last filing shows around $23,000 on hand while Rendon has around 20,000. VanderWall was not in the race during the last reporting deadline, but his State House committee has nearly $70,000 he can transfer to his State Senate account.
Not much is known yet about Cary Urka, who does not have a campaign website or Facebook page.
The crowded field of lawmakers may be unprecedented, notes political analyst Bill Ballanger.
According to Michigan Public Radio:
"The 35th District is a sprawling seat that includes 12 counties. It goes from Ludington to Northport and heads east to include Cadillac, Kalkaska and Grayling. The district has been a safe Republican seat in recent elections but winning the Republican primary will be difficult...
“It’s really fascinating," says longtime political commentator Bill Ballenger. "You got three either current or former state reps running against each other in a primary. I’m not sure I ever remember that happening before.”
Voters will decide between the candidates in early August.