Santa impersonator heads to Congress

Republican Kerry Bentivolio speaks at his election night party in Novi, Mich., Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012.
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
Kerry Bentivolio
AP Photo/Paul Sancya

Following one of the strangest races in the 2012 election cycle, Michigan's 11th district is sending Republican Kerry Bentivolio -- a Santa impersonating, Tea Party-backed reindeer farmer -- to Congress.

However, before Bentivolio is sworn into office, the 11th district will be represented - for about six weeks - by a Democrat who beat Bentivolio in a special election. That Democrat, David Curson, will replace former Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, a five-term Republican who abruptly resigned over the summer after mounting a long-shot presidential bid and failing to qualify for re-election after a petition signature scandal (all the while, McCotter was also attempting to write a sitcom pilot).

Bentivolio beat his Democratic opponent Syed Taj on Tuesday, 51 percent to 44 percent. However, he narrowly lost the special election to Curson, who will be sworn into office in the next few days and represent the 11th district until Dec. 31. Curson told the Detroit Free Press he ran in the special election specifically to represent his district in negotiations over the "fiscal cliff."

Bentivolio will take office on Jan. 3, after a congressional election that dredged up his colorful history. Bentivolio is a veteran of the U.S. Army and Michigan Army National Guard who served in Vietnam and Iraq. He's worked as a teacher, in automotive design and has a questionable past in home-building ventures, according to reports. His campaign website says Bentivolio and his wife "live on a small farm raising reindeer trained to pull Santa's sleigh in various parades and special holiday events. They also maintain a small flock of chickens, a 25-hive apiary of honeybees, and a 115-vine vineyard."

The Free Press reported on the way Bentivolio characterized his work portraying Santa nearly two decades ago, in a lawsuit relating to his Santa business: "I have a problem figuring out which one I really am, Santa Claus or Kerry Bentivolio," he said in his deposition. "All my life I have been told I'm Kerry Bentivolio, and now, I am a Santa Claus, so now I prefer to be Santa Claus."

In addition to playing Santa, Bentivolio in 2011 portrayed a doctor in a poorly-produced movie called "The President Goes to Heaven," in which a fictional U.S. president plots a terrorist attack as an excuse to go to war.

He managed to win the Republican primary after the libertarian super PAC "Liberty for All" spent nearly $700,000, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, supporting Bentivolio and attacking his self-funded opponent Nancy Cassis.

Even more outside spending came into play in the general election, when the far-right group "Freedom's Defense Fund" starting attacking Bentivolio's opponent, Taj, for his religion. Taj, a physician and a local township trustee, is a practicing Muslim who immigrated from India decades ago. In one ominous ad, the group accused Taj of wanting to "advance Muslim power in America" and calls him "too extreme."

Meanwhile, in the final days of the campaign, Bentivolio's brother told the press that the Republican politician is "mentally unbalanced" and could "eventually serve time in prison."

After securing his spot in Congress Tuesday, Bentivolio said he's now going to focus on hiring competent staff, Michigan Live reported.

"I'm going to do my best to have the best constituent services in the nation," he said. "Our staff will be well-trained. I'm going to test them ... send somebody posing as a citizen to see how well our staff performs."