Five Republicans are hoping to tap into voter discontent to deliver northern Michigan's First Congressional District to the GOP for the first time since 1993. But one of them has to first win a primary race where support from the Tea Party movement is expected to play a critical role.
At a GOP picnic on the shores of Lake Michigan, American flags fill the lawn of a public park. Common themes for Republican voters like Jill Picha, from Charlevoix, fuel strong ties with the Tea Party.
"I'm deeply concerned about our debt and it seems to be growing bigger and bigger," she says. "I think our troops need more support. And we need smaller government. We need to go back to Ronald Reagan days."
It's this kind of discontent that Don Hooper is hoping will fuel his fifth try to represent the second largest congressional district east of the Mississippi. Hooper says a lot of folks in his district are angry at just about everything related to President Barack Obama:
"With Obama there, as long as he's there, you're in to socialism," he says. "I think I'd even go a step further than that. There are some people that might rebel at it, but I think he's as communist as he is socialist."
Hooper and his rivals for the Republican nomination clearly believe the Tea Party movement will be a factor in the race, and Hooper says he's been with the Tea Party since the beginning.
"Tea parties, to me, are the biggest power in the United States right now," he says. "Well, I'm more than a tea party candidate. I'm a guy that conducts them, and I belong to the tea party alliance."
Another candidate, Tom Stillings: "My entire candidacy is the result of some tea party folks talking me into running. My values are those of the tea party.
Stillings lives on Torch Lake just north of Traverse City.
"The size and scope of the federal government, the overreaching of the federal government, the idea that our country is run by professional politicians, they know all about what it takes to get elected and how to go about it. But when it comes to the practicality of the real world, approaching government from a business perspective, knowing about finance and such, they're completely in the dark. That's why we're in the trouble we're in today," he says.
Another Republican candidate for the First Congressional District, Pat Donlon, lives in Hessel on the Eastern end of the U.P.. He admits to being a political novice.
"I really don't like politics," he says. "I don't like the spirit of politics. But there's something in me that's compelling me to do this and I'm putting my whole life on the line."
But Doctor Dan Beneshek of Crystal Falls in the western U.P. says he's the natural Tea Party candidate. He was in the race before Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak decided to hang it up after playing a key role in the bruising fight over health care reform.
Beneshek says it was the health care bill that made him decide to make his first attempt at an elected office.
"Instead of yelling at the TV. You see the news on TV and you're not happy about it, A lot of times I watch the TV and I see what's happening in government and it upsets me to see the way they behave. I mean the passage of the health care bill, nobody was for it, and yet they passed it."
Unlike the other Republicans, running as an outsider is not an option for state Senator Jason Allen, who's been a political insider for a dozen years.
"The thing I will be bringing forth if I'm fortunate enough to have the nomination is my ability to reach across party aisles," he says. "And you can take a look at my record on that. I'm the 8th most conservative member of the legislature, and I'm a small business person that's actually made payroll."
Allen's family owns a men's clothing store in Traverse City. He moved into the district to run for the seat.
Whoever wins the Republican primary will run against state Representative Gary MacDowell, who is uncontested in the Democratic primary.