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For Upton, it's game on

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), second from left, wields considerable influence as the new chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), second from left, wields considerable influence as the new chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. (Melina Mara)

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Four days before the vote, his campaign received $5,000 from Valero, the nation's largest oil refiner; $3,000 each from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and the Medtronic Medical Technology Fund; $2,500 each from the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, power generator Calpine and the energy utility Exelon; and $2,000 from Microsoft. Other groups - such as the American Wind Energy Association - sent money on Election Day.

Upton also meets with executives. For instance, when he saw AT&T chief executive Randall L. Stephenson, he asked about paperwork burdens created by the health-care law.

"I met with the president of Toshiba," said Upton, a nuclear power enthusiast, "and in Japan or France, it takes four to six years to build a nuclear plant. Why does it take us 10 to 12 years?" He added, "I don't know, but we sure are going to find out."

Business groups are upbeat. "I think our interests and his and the Republican conference's align, especially on EPA stuff," said an oil industry lobbyist who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Republican stronghold

Upton, 57, comes from southwest Michigan, so close to Chicago that he roots for the Cubs and Bears. This year, because of the congressional schedule, he expects to miss Opening Day at Wrigley Field for the first time in 20 years. Mounted on his office wall, he has a baseball bat used by Sammy Sosa - one without any cork inside, Upton notes.

His grandfather co-founded Whirlpool (then known as Upton Machine Co.), and Upton is wealthier than most members of Congress, with at least $8 million in assets, according to a 2009 disclosure statement.

The district was long a Republican stronghold, from the founding of the party in the 19th century, and its congressmen have included New Deal foe Clare Hoffman and Nixon defender Edward Hutchison. Its main towns are Kalamazoo and Benton Harbor-St. Joseph, which is still home to Whirlpool.

In the 1970s, Upton volunteered to work for the congressional campaign of David Stockman, a critic of pork-barrel spending who later became President Ronald Reagan's budget director. When Stockman won the Michigan seat, he brought Upton, a University of Michigan graduate who had never been to Washington, along as a legislative aide. When Stockman went to the Office of Management and Budget, Upton followed and worked in the legislative affairs office.

Kenneth Duberstein, a former Reagan chief of staff whose son works for Upton, called him "earnest, Midwest-straight, indefatigable" and said Upton "liked dealing with substance."

In 1986, Upton ran for Congress himself, opposing the Republican incumbent, Mark D. Siljander, who had been elected with the help of the Moral Majority and who asked voters to support him in the primary in order to "break the back of Satan." Upton won.

Since then, he has built a voting record that shows streaks of independence.

Kathryn Lehman, a lawyer at Holland & Knight who worked as policy director for then-GOP whip Tom DeLay (Tex.), said Upton always "took some talking to. You had to have a conversation with him. . . . You couldn't take him for granted."


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