April 30 2009 12:00 AM

Is it


To the casual passerby, the collage of maps, charts and Internet articles spread across the Gone Wired Caf coffee table means nothing. To Bob Alexander, it’s his road map to a seat in Congress.

Hold on, hear him out. He’s not crazy. This is a well-thought out forecast. Grab a seat. Sit down.

We already know the U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Brighton, smoked the 63-year-old Democratic activist 61 percent to 37 percent in 2004 in the 8th Congressional District. Last year’s beating was a little less severe, 56 to 40 percent.

But forget about those numbers. Look at Alexander’s homemade bar chart.

The red bar is the number of votes Rogers collected in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008. In ’02 and ’06, the last two years Michigan elected a governor, Rogers earned 156,000 and 157,000 votes, respectively. In ’04 and ’08, the last two years Michigan elected a president, Rogers collected 207,000 and 204,000 votes.

That’s consistency.

The light blue bar is Rogers’ Democratic challenger. Former CIA case officer Jim Marcinkowski of Lake Orion, Rogers’ opponent in 2006, won 52,000 more votes than the ’02 challenger, Lansing attorney Frank McAlpine. Alexander, the Dems 2008 nominee did 20,000 votes better than when he was the ’04 nominee.

The Democratic candidates’ trend lines are going up (sort of).

So, what if 2010 isn’t as big of a Democratic year as 2008? What if Alexander can wrestle just 15,000 more votes in 2010 than Marcinkowski managed in 2006? And what if Rogers’ vote total remains flat from ’02 and ’06?

Alexander looks up from his bar chart. He looks like the 12-year-old boy who deciphered a “long-lost” pirate map. The secret treasure is buried behind Mom’s geraniums.

“We do have a chance to win,” he gleams.

Alexander, Part III

Haven’t we seen this movie before? East Lansing loveable liberal sends out his quixotic toy soldier campaign against Rogers’ welloiled machine, only to watch his little green men get squashed into the pavement?

Nobody is more tired of it than Alexander, himself. He said he’s done with throwntogether efforts run on a shoestring. He’s taking his charts, maps and Internet analyses to Washington and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

If they can commit to throwing enough money toward his 2010campaign to make him competitive, anything is possible. If the Washington money goes elsewhere, Alexander said the Michigan Democratic Party can find somebody else to put on the ballot.

“I’m not going to put my family through another 18 months of hard campaigning only to get blown out of the water in the last few weeks by some slick television commercials and a bunch of hit pieces,” Alexander said. “I’m not going to do it.”

So far, things don’t look overly promising. Alexander is still shoveling himself out a hole from last year. He’s down to $17,000 in campaign debt. This week, he held another debt-burner at the Hannah Community Center in East Lansing.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, fresh off a pair of Michigan victories in 2008, has its eyes on the Great Lakes State again, but not at mid- Michigan. They’re salivating over its prospects in western Wayne County, where U.S. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter survived a scare from a no-name challenger last year. Joseph Larkin raised next to nothing ($29,000) in the 11th Congressional District, compared to what Alexander put together ($218,000) and still out-performed Alexander by five percentage points (45 to 40 percent).

President Barack Obama carried the 8th Congressional District in Michigan. Alexander didn’t even hit the Democrats’ base numbers. Even if Alexander can scrounge together some money, the odds are long.

For all of his well-reasoned plans to expand Medicare to cover all Americans, his passionate anti-war policies and his approach to restructure the subprime loans, the public has had two opportunities at embracing Alexander. Both times they said “no.” At this point, some local Democrats are questioning whether Alexander is making a fool of himself by running for Congress a third time.

“To the extent there’s a chance of beating him, it revolves around either an emerging health issue or scandal, neither of which is even a 5 percent probability,” said Mark Grebner, of Practical Political Consulting. “The year 2010 wont be as good a year for Dems as 2008 was. Maybe itll still be a good year, but it certainly wont be better than 2008, which is what Bob is counting on.”

Grebner pointed out that voting patterns in McCotter’s 11th Congressional District are changing, much like they were changing in the Oakland County-based 9th Congressional District, where U.S.
Rep. Gary Peters knocked off long-time incumbent Joe Knollenberg last
year or in the 7th Congressional District, where U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer
unseated freshman Republican Tim Walberg.

The 8th
Congressional District is made up of Clinton, Ingham, Livingston,
southern Shiawassee and northern Oakland counties. Of these areas,
Livingston and northern Oakland counties make up 50 percent of the 8th
Congressional District. Alexander lost that area 2:1 in 2008.

“He really can’t do much better than that,” Grebner said.

What About Bob?

Back in 2004,
Steve Manchester of Lansing, Alexander’s old friend from their Peace
Corps days, overheard a prominent local Democrat grousing at a Dem
gathering a few days before the election. The person was lamenting that
Alexander was their party’s nominee and “couldn’t we do better than

Agitated, Manchester held his tongue.

Then in 2008,
Manchester again heard another well-placed Democrat bemoan Alexander’s
placement on the ballot. “Why is it we let Bob Alexander run for
office?” was the complaint.

This time, Manchester spoke up.

told this person that Alexander had worked hard in his campaign even
though nobody else wanted to run in ’04 and ’08. He got Rogers to spend
some money,” said Manchester. “I said, ‘I find it discouraging
that this is the best you can do for Bob Alexander.’”

The comment-maker
apologized profusely. But Manchester proved his point. If Alexander
isn’t carrying the flag for Democrats, who is? The party can do a lot

“If he gets the nomination in 2010, I will be
supporting him again,” Manchester said. “I’ll be thankful because I
know he’ll run hard and carry a strong Democratic message and that’s
important by itself.”

Alexander has run across the
“Oh-no-it’s-Bob-again” sentiment many times before. Up until last year,
all Democratic congressional challengers received the same
youcan-stand-over-there-away-fromme treatment, he said. Before 2008,
when the Democrats actually tried to win a pair of congressional seats,
congressional candidates received no organized support.

Democratic challengers prior to Peters and Schauer have been looked
upon as the poor cousins at the wedding,” Alexander said. “You don’t
even want them there because they’re an embarrassment. Seriously.”

Bob Alexander standing outside the Wharton Center collecting
signatures. Again. There’s Bob Alexander handing out his home-spun
literature at a local festival. Again.

Alexander picks up the
Democratic flag and gives it his best effort in a Republican district
because he believes in the cause. If the Democrats felt they had a
better option, he gladly hand over the baton.

Look at history. He’s done it before.

After You . . . I Insist

In 1982, Alexander was a staffer for then-state Sen. Edward Pierce of Ann Arbor.

Pierce running for governor, it was assumed Alexander, who had run
unsuccessfully for the state House in the 1970s, would succeed his

Originally, Alexander was going to run for the state House again
based on the assumption that the officeholder at the time, Perry
Bullard, was going to run for Congress. When that didnt happen and
Bullard ran for reelection, Alexander shifted his focus to Pierces
state Senate seat.

He’d put together the framework of his campaign.
Lana Pollack, then a member of the school board, would run his

The state Senate district was a whole different ball
of wax from running for the House, though. Pollack lived in the Senate
district. She’d been elected before. She arguably had better name ID.
The district was a competitive seat — Pierce was the first Democrat to
represent Washtenaw County in the state Senate since the time of
President Theodore Roosevelt.

Moreover, the Republicans were
putting up a moderate Republican woman for their candidate, who could,
theoretically, pull Democratic female votes out of Ann Arbor if
Alexander were the candidate. The more Alexander thought about it, the
more he questioned whether Pollack wouldn’t be a better opponent than

But before he could bounce the idea past Pollack,
Alexander’s phone rang. It was Pollack.

“Bob, we need to talk,” she

“You mean we should talk about me not running for state Senate?”
Alexander responded. “I haven’t been elected to anything. I just got
married. I got a baby kid. You’ve been on the school board. Your kid is
out of the house. Is that why we should talk about, Lana?”

There was a
short pause.

“We think too similarly!” was her response.

Pollack ended up winning the Senate seat and served from 1983 to 1994.
Alexander worked on her staff, moving his young family to East Lansing
in the process.

It took until 1995 before Alexander got the
bug to run for office again. And, once again, Alexander ended up
sacrificing his own candidacy.

This time, his sights were set
on the East Lansing City Council. After an 11-person primary, he
secured the sixth and final spot, finishing behind Mark Meadows, Doug
Jester, Richard Garcia, Fran Faverman and Sam Singh.

again, Alexander looked at the numbers. If he were to continue, the
best he could expect, he felt, was fourth or fifth, considering
Meadows, Jester and Singh — three other progressive candidates — were
running as a slate.

Ultimately, Alexander dropped out of the
race. His name appeared on the general election ballot, but he actively
urged voters not to pick him.

The strategy worked. Meadows, Jester and
Singh all won. All three ultimately took a turn as the city’s mayor.
Meadows is now a member of the state House, and Singh, once he returns
from his round-the-world tour, is rumored to be a prime candidate for
state office.

Alexander In ’08

So when does Bob
Alexander really run for office? When he does stop running as a decoy
for Democratic or progressive causes? When does he start giving himself
a chance to win?

Alexander thought 2008 was going to be that year. He
brought in a professional consultant to help his small staff get
organized and raise money.

The strategy was that Bob Alexander
was going to be locked in a room with a stack of prospective donor
cards and their phone numbers. Allegedly, he wasn’t going to be let out
of the room until he raised $1 million.

Of course, that never
happened. He never he got a quarter of the way there.

“I thought that
I’d be able to get some money — $1,000 or $2,000 a person instead of
something like $5,000,” he said.

The problem was the money from the
donor community was all gone. Peters, Schauer, Hillary Clinton, Obama
and Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s leadership fund picked the region’s
pockets, leaving Alexander with the lint. Between June 18 and 22,
Alexander said he could see that the money was going to tight.

would tell me, ‘Bob I’m all tapped out. I can give you $20,’” Alexander
said. “We went through the summer with very little money.”

Fundraising picked up a little bit later in the fall, but
by then it was too late.

Alexander went public with his campaign’s poll
that showed the 8th District congressional race was tight. Practical
Political Consultants followed up with data substantiating the

Not taking any chances, the Republicans fired up the
Rogers steamroller. Swing voters began receiving a barrage of what
Alexander called “misleading” robo-calls. The Michigan
Republican Party mailed out a series of four fliers the week before the
election that all claimed Alexander was soft on illegal immigration.

Give-Aways for Illegals and Higher Taxes for Us,” screamed one flier.
Another had Alexander’s face opposite that of Bill Gates. “Bob
Alexander supports government-run health care, including coverage for
the Super Rich and the 9 million illegals currently in America,”
shouted another.

Meanwhile, Rogers’ smiling face showed up in
living rooms across the district. There was Mike Rogers’ baby picture
again. There was a sunburned Mike Rogers trumpeting alternative energy.
Man, those television ads were good, and Alexander knew it.

response: One mailing. It wasn’t nearly enough.

One liberal
blogger wrote that the Republicans’ tactics showed “the emerging 8th
District has given the party more to worry about.” Alexander took the
same attitude.

No matter how much Alexander tried to defuse
the attack ads in the press, he didn’t have nearly enough. The money
was gone. They borrowed more money than they should have to stay

“I was kind of honored that Mike Rogers would
construct all of these things and go after me,” said Alexander, trying
to draw a smiley face on the beating he took on Election Day. “This
told me they were freaking out. I suspect it was a Karl Rove production
for Rogers-like Republicans who were getting a strong challenger from

the attack poll, this kind of staff (as he points to the fliers) and
(Rogers’) normal TV ads, I’m amazed I got 40.4 percent.”

Alexander In ’10 Or Bust

Alexander straightens up his color-coded map, his bar chart and his clippings. The
sale pitch at Gone Wired Caf is over. The retired state employee seems
to feel better about his chances in 2010 then he did an hour before, as
if his pitch helped convince himself.

He’s starting early,
remember. The UAW was on his side last year. Maybe this time the
Michigan Education Association will have the money it supposedly didn’t
have last year. He is a former teacher, after all. Maybe he can get to
the construction unions before their wallets are empty.

he could try again to run in 2012 when maybe the congressional
districts are redrawn and the district representing Ingham County could
be more favorable for a Democratic candidate. But, as he says, “I’m not
getting any younger.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign
Committee hasn’t picked up the phone yet. Michigan Democratic Party
Chairman Mark Brewer hasn’t returned his telephone call. But when the
press called the DCCC about the state of the 8th Congressional
District, there was a response, canned though it may be.

families are fed up with Congressman Mike Rogers for consistently
placing partisan politics above fighting for a robust economic recovery
that will get the state back on its feet,” said Gabby Adler, DCCC
Midwestern regional press secretary. “We believe voters in the 8th
district will embrace a Democratic candidate who reflects their values
and is committed to spending everyday fighting to protect our auto
industry, create new jobs, and secure a prosperous future for the

Hey, at least it’s not a “Get lost, Bob.” At least,
it’s a glimmer of hope.

Those who know Bob Alexander know he’s good at
finding those.

How the Dems have done against Rogers


Mike Rogers (R) - 145,190 - 48.78%

Dianne Byrum (D) - 145,079 - 48.74%


Mike Rogers (R) - 156,525 - 67.88%

Frank McAlpine (D) - 70,920 - 30.75%


Mike Rogers (R) - 207,925 - 61.08%

Bob Alexander (D) - 125,619 - 36.90%


Mike Rogers (R) - 157, 237 - 55.27%

Jim Marcinkowski (D) - 122,107 - 42.92%


Mike Rogers (R) - 204,408 - 56.52%

Bob Alexander (D) - 145,491 - 40.23%

Source: Michigan Secretary of State