It’s the question political observers in the 1st Congressional District are asking. Will U.S. Rep. Dan BENISHEK (R-Crystal Falls) break his self-imposed pledge to serve only three terms in Congress and run for re-election in 2016?

Benishek can’t make the argument his words were taken out of context. First, there’s his own press release where he clearly states, “I am happy to tell voters I strongly favor term limits. Three terms and you’re retired seems about right to me.”

But second of all, term limits was “part of his stump speech,” remembers “Trucker Randy” BISHOP, who ran for the 37th Senate District seat in northern Michigan in 2010 at the same time Benishek was running for his first term in Congress.

“I was on stage with him at numerous events where this came up as an issue,” Bishop said. “And these weren’t gotcha questions or anything like that. He brought it up.”

Benishek hasn’t publicly tipped his hand one way or the other. His campaign team’s standard response has been that’s it’s focused on the current term as opposed to the future, a sign that the issue (at the very least) is not settled in his mind.

Early signs seem to point toward “Dr. Dan” running for a fourth term. The American Action Network (AAN), a self-proclaimed center-right organization is spending $30,000 on Traverse City broadcast buy to run an ad 175 times thanking Benishek for fighting for a “conservative agenda” in Congress.

MIRS has learned national Republicans would prefer a re-election bid considering 2016 is a presidential year and the prospects of a female Democratic nominee would make the swing 1st District significantly more competitive if it were open. Michigan Republican Party Chair Ronna RomneyMcDANIEL was asked today on Off the Record today whether Benishek should run for a fourth term, but she said it was a decision the member of Congress must make.

What little history Michigan has seen with self-imposed congressional term limits has not shown political repercussions.

Former U.S. Rep. Pete HOEKSTRA said initially he would only serve six terms, but broke that pledge, running and winning in 2004, 2006 and 2008 without a primary challenge (See “Hoekstra Will Seek Re-Election,” 12/19/02).

The only other recent self-imposed term limit pledge came from former U.S. Rep. Nick SMITH, who served only the six terms he pledged to serve from 1993-2004.

Northern Michigan political consultant Dennis LENNOX, however, said the blue-collar residents of the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula may not be as forgiving.

“This is a conservative, God-fearing, gun-loving, family-centered district,” Lennox said. “Even the Democrats, many of whom are Catholic, are socially conservative. This would be a very bad part of Michigan to break a term-limits pledge.”

Lennox said he supported Benishek in 2010 and didn’t offer a position on whether Benishek should run for a fourth term or not. However, he did predict that if he does, the question would not be if he has a primary, but how credible the primary is.

Sen. Tom CASPERSON (R-Escanaba) would likely run for the 1st if Benishek were not to run again, but it’s very unlikely he would challenge his personal friend in a primary.

It’s not clear about the other top-tier Republican rumored to be considering the seat — former state Sen. Jason ALLEN, who lost to Benishek by a mere 15 voters in 2010, although Up North political observers doubt he’d primary Benishek.

If neither of them run, several current House members would bring instant credibility to a run, such as Rep. Lee CHATFIELD (R-Levering), term-limited Rep. Ed MCBROOM (R-Vulcan) and term-limited Rep. Pete PETTALIA (R-Presque Isle), being three of them.

Benishek is in the politically tricky position of not being particularly loved by either the district’s Tea Party leaders or the “establishment,” but is generally acceptable to both. His campaign staffer, JesseOSMER, was recently re-elected as the chair of the Republican Party’s 1st Congressional District amid a competitive race, which shows some political strength.

This is despite Benishek not being known for hitting a large number of Lincoln Day dinners or engaging in the chicken dinner circuit.

His tolerable center-right voting record likely won’t shake loose any high-dollar donors in either Michigan or Washington D.C. to fund a primary challenger, noted one observer.

The filing deadline is still more than a year away, as another observer noted, so Benishek’s perception in the district could significantly change for the better or the worse in the meantime.

Either way, expect the Democrats to make a play for Benishek. If the incumbent runs, expect the breaking of the term limit pledge to play a central theme in a campaign, MIRS is told.

“We think Dan Benishek is one of most vulnerable members in the country,” said Michigan Democratic Party (MDP) Lon JOHNSON. “He’s gone to Washington and been part of the partisan gridlock that has done nothing for the people of his district. He said he’d serve three terms. We’ll see if he’s a man of his word or not.”

The Hill reported this week 2014 nominee Jerry CANNON, who lost 52 to 45 percent in a good Republican year, is taking a serious look at another run. Rep. Scott DIANDA (D-Calumet) is also a possibility, but it’s unlikely there would be a competitive primary, MIRS has learned.

Cannon’s military and law enforcement background had appeal with voters. Meanwhile, Dianda in 2014 had the most conservative record of any Democrat in the state Legislature since MIRS started tracking annual voting records in 2003.

Dianda’s 63 percent conservative ranking was higher than that of 24 Republicans and only two percentage points off the 65 percent posted by Casperson in the Senate.