July 20, 2004: Headlines: COS - India: Politics: Election2004 - Alexander: Lansing State Journal: India RPCV Bob Alexander in primary race for Michigan's 8th District

Peace Corps Online: Directory: India: Peace Corps India: The Peace Corps in India: July 20, 2004: Headlines: COS - India: Politics: Election2004 - Alexander: Lansing State Journal: India RPCV Bob Alexander in primary race for Michigan's 8th District

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India RPCV Bob Alexander in primary race for Michigan's 8th District

India RPCV Bob Alexander in primary race for Michigan's 8th District

India RPCV Bob Alexander in primary race for Michigan's 8th District

Dems in 8th District race march on despite stiff odds
Primary winner takes on incumbent Rogers

BECKY SHINK/Lansing State Journal

Caption: At work: Eighth District Congressional candidate Bob Alexander (standing) talks with campaign volunteers Margaret Kingsbury (left) and Kathleen Czop on Wednesday in East Lansing.

By Chris Andrews
Lansing State Journal

With his dog Hannah, Matt Ferguson strides down North Cedar Street toward downtown Mason. The "Matt Ferguson for Congress" sign on his backpack makes him a walking billboard.

Several miles away, Bob Alexander, 59, has converted the living room of his East Lansing house into a campaign war room, a district map on one wall, a chart keeping tabs on letters to absentee voters on another.

It's a no-frills, low-cost race offering Democrats a contrast between a political newcomer and someone who has been active in campaigns since long before Ferguson, 27, was born.

All for the right to take on U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, who the experts say will crush either one in the race for the 8th Congressional District, which includes Ingham, Clinton, Livingston and southern Shiawassee counties.

"It's been a lot of fun and a lot of hard work," Ferguson said as he takes a break to give Hannah some water at about mile 85 of his six-day, 100-mile trek. "When I get home, I walk around like a tin man."

After four decades in politics, Alexander has the drill down: Hit all the parades, fireworks and festivals. Get letters out to absentee voters the same day voters receive their ballots.

"I've never worked a campaign that had more than four house parties, and we're over 20," Alexander said. "I take Matt as a serious candidate. He's caused me to get off my tush and really have to hustle."

The odds are long for either man winning in November.

After winning the closest Congressional race in America in 2000, Rogers won re-election two years ago with 68 percent of the vote.

"It's really a race for second place," said Democratic political consultant Mark Grebner. "It's hard to care."

Don't tell that to Ferguson or Alexander, who, win or lose, say they'll be working to help Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry defeat President Bush.

While both candidates see eye to eye on political issues, they offer a personal contrast:

# Alexander, 59, the grizzled veteran of too many campaigns and causes to count.

# Ferguson, 27, the political newcomer opting out of the keep-your-opinions-to-yourself world of journalism. He was formerly a WKAR radio news anchor and talk show host.

Alexander served in the Peace Corps in India, protested the Vietnam War and taught in Kentucky and Detroit. As a state worker, he was a leader in a failed effort to recall then-Gov. John Engler in the early 1990s.

He lost two races for the state House in Ann Arbor and a City Council race in East Lansing. Two years ago, he ran Frank McAlpine's campaign against Rogers and most recently directed Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich's presidential campaign efforts in Michigan.

"The issues that are prominent now - jobs, health care, peace, education and the environment - I've been working on these for 35 or 40 years," Alexander said.

Shrikumar and Mayruika Poddar of Okemos will host a party for Alexander to introduce him to friends and neighbors later this month.

"I want peace in Iraq and harmony at home," Shrikumar Poddar said. "I've known Bob for many years, and he's a tireless worker for peace."

Ferguson made an abrupt shift from covering politics to doing it. He's living off his retirement account as he campaigns.

Ferguson said that when retired Gen. Wesley Clark decided to run for president, he submitted a resume but never heard back. Later, he decided to run for office himself.

"When the Bush administration came into power, it was very difficult for me to stay silent," he said. "I saw a lot of things that disturbed me greatly, most particularly the situation in Iraq. It was really the touchstone that put me over the edge."

Ferguson picked up the endorsements of Lansing Mayor Tony Benavides and state Sen. Virg Bernero of Lansing.

"Matt's a bright, hard-working, energetic young man with good ideas, and he deserves a shot at it," Bernero said. "I definitely think he's got a bright future ahead of him."

The Alexander-Ferguson rivalry has been friendly and positive. Each promises to support the winner of the Aug. 3 primary.

Rogers isn't too concerned about who emerges as the winner.

"The congressman is very confident that he has represented the district in terms of values and support of our troops and support of our efforts to fight the war on terrorism," spokeswoman Sylvia Warner said.

Alexander says his No. 1 goal is electing Kerry.

"My view is we cannot have George Bush for four more years," he said. "My major reason for getting into this race was to make sure everyone in the 8th District that I could influence, votes for Kerry."

Ferguson acknowledges the long odds as well.

"The greatest thing is now, when I hear all the news about what Mr. Bush is up to, I don't have to just shake my fist at the TV and say, 'Well, when's someone going to do something?' I feel like I'm doing something."

The Alexander file

# Name: Bob Alexander

# Age: 59

# Home: East Lansing

# Occupation: Political activist, retired state worker

# Education: Bachelor's degree, University of Michigan; master's, Wayne State University

# Personal: Married, three children

# Web site: www.alexander4congress.com

The Ferguson file

# Name: Matt Ferguson

# Age: 27

# Home: Lansing

# Occupation: Former WKAR radio news anchor and talk show host

# Education: Bachelor's degree, Michigan State University

# Personal: Married, no children

# Web site: www.votematt.org
ROD SANFORD/Lansing State Journal

Contact Chris Andrews at 377-1054 or candrews@lsj.com.

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Story Source: Lansing State Journal

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