U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, is seeking a third six-year term and could be vulnerable under the right conditions.
But all four Republicans on the Aug. 7 ballot have made such head-scratching decisions, it seems this campaign has been more an exercise in how far the human nose can stretch into the Tea Party’s rear end than mounting a credible challenge to Stabenow.
First off, the perceived frontrunner, former nine-term Congressman Pete Hoekstra, 58, was only talked into the race after the party’s brass panicked and put the screws to him. At the time, the only person in the ring was Randy Hekman, a far-from-wealthy Christian missionary who last served in elected office 22 years ago.
The 2010 gubernatorial candidate’s entrance into the race was a 30-second Super Bowl TV ad featuring a poorly portrayed Chinese woman forcing out a fake accent and ticking off every bad Asian stereotype in the book. Just about everyone was offended.
Outside of one FOX News commentator, next to no one publicly defended the spot, which gained Hoekstra negative national headlines and dried up his fundraising for a solid month.
The fumble gave former State Board of Education Chairman Clark Durant, 63, an opening to cut into Hoekstra’s enormous 40-point lead, particularly among independents, who were particularly baffled by the commercial.
Instead, the Cornerstone Schools founder horded most of his $2.2 million haul, stayed next to publicly silent and made few public appearances before taking the airwaves three weeks before the summer election.
At that point, the suit-and-tie, well-connected socialite adopted a curious “Rebel With a Cause” campaign slogan. The upper crust Durant, who doesn’t even own a leather jacket, was stuck in front of a motorcycle he doesn’t know how to drive.
Where was this field of candidates since January? Hitting every Tea Party gathering and GOP Lincoln Day dinner they could sniff out. They’re the type of events a few dozen true believers attend, but not much media, something Durant and friends needed desperately to boost their painfully low name ID.
Instead, Durant, Hekman, American Family Association President Gary Glenn and, for a time, Roscommon businessman Pete Konetchy carved up the ultra-right Dittoheads like Thanksgiving turkey.
Konetchy’s fun ended when a Glenn plant figured out Konetchy didn’t have enough signatures and outed him to the secretary of state.
Glenn’s campaign climaxed in February after 40 fringe Tea Party groups endorsed him. Its members helped Glenn gather more petition signatures than his colleagues, but they couldn’t find him any significant pots of money. The result? An extended stay at single digits in the polls.
Rank-and-file Republicans stayed away from Glenn because his homophobic views and past questionable campaign tactics as the AFA president made him toxic in a general election and everybody knew it.
So, 18 days before the primary, with just $16,681 in his campaign account, Glenn pulled out and endorsed Durant, accepting the long-needed role of Hoekstra attack dog (His first swipe was questioning Hoekstra’s relationship with former Teamsters’ head Jimmy Hoffa Jr.).
However, the decision came much too late to get Glenn’s name off any ballot, meaning he will still draw a small percentage of votes away from Durant, the person he’s trying to help.
The race’s longest-tenured candidate, Hekman, couldn’t catch fire with a match and a gallon of gasoline. A Kent County judge from 1975 to 1990, Hekman is the executive pastor at Crossroads Bible Church. He’s run a bone-dry, eyes-glazed-over campaign sprinkled with outdated, religious references. His sermon may have earned him a halleluiah 20 years ago, but pulling “God” into campaigns hasn’t been successful since Pat Robertson.
He’s raised $181,462 since hopping into the race 17 months ago. Stabenow’s campaign generated more in five days last March.
With everyone else flying under the radar, Hoekstra opted to join them since he was destroying this fringe field, anyway. He picked which joint appearances he wanted to show up at and stayed away from any televised debates.
Finally, he conceded to a WKAR forum for 2 p.m. Thursday. That’s a Thursday mid-afternoon in the summer, which is pre-empting “Wild Kratts,” an animated kids show. Maybe the upset 10-year-old who will miss the regular programming will tell Mom there’s a debate on. Or maybe he’ll turn the channel to the Cartoon Network.
Hoekstra has had a tough job. He’s walked this delicate balance of trying to talk common sense to the tin-hatters (like voting down a debt ceiling hike would have imploded the federal government) while saying he’s one of them.
He fell off the rope in late May when he pitched creating a federal birther office to validate presidential candidates’ citizenship.
Three weeks before the primary, Durant woke up and decided to campaign for the U.S. Senate. The other day, he picked a food fight with Hoekstra over Super PACs or campaign contributions or something that only real political wonks get excited about.
But those who may have paid attention may have already voted. The first absentee ballots were sent out weeks prior and older voters who tend to use them could have already mailed them back.
That’s OK, right? At this pace, the GOP candidates will have Stabenow right where they want her ... six years from now when she’s back up re-election.