A big hole in the Republican battle to take the Senate and win the war over Obamacare was filled this morning as former Michigan congressman Pete Hoekstra announced that he’s decided to take on two-term incumbent Debbie “I feel global warming when I’m flying” Stabenow.
The decision marks a dramatic turn for Hoekstra just four months after he declined to run — citing his family’s preferences and his own exhaustion after a tough GOP primary battle in the 2010 gubernatorial race. Hoekstra won’t have to worry about a tough primary in this race. With the state Republican establishment eager to have a big-name candidate on the ticket and the national party desperately needing to win every Senate seat in play, Hoekstra was lobbied hard by party bigwigs.
A lot has changed since April.
Announcing his candidacy on the Frank Beckmann Show this morning, Hoekstra cited the grim turn that the economy — and U.S. debt — has taken. Not uncoincidentally, Stabenow’s numbers have turned with them. A major state poll released this week has Stabenow struggling, with negatives over 50 percent and a positive job rating of just 38 percent. Ouch.
The son of scrappy Dutch immigrants, Hoekstra told Beckmann “my parents gave up everything to come to this country for their kids. This election is about creating opportunity for my kids.” (He moved here when he was three, so it’s his kids that are the first-gen Americans.)
The West Michigan native noted the impact that the Stabenow-Obama economy is having on the state. But more importantly, he said he has seen what a newly elected Republican executive and legislature can do. Hoekstra praised Gov. Rick Snyder (who narrowly beat Hoekstra in last year’s GOP primary) for turning the state’s budget crisis around in just six months after he and his Tea Party GOP colleagues took over from a dysfunctional Democratic governor and state house. Indeed, Michigan’s fortunes under Jennifer Granholm — an attractive but inept ideologue with a Harvard Law degree (sound familiar?) — bear an eerie resemblance to America’s under President Obama.
“Rick and his team are off to an awesome start,” said Hoekstra of the GOP revolution that has plugged the state’s gusher of red ink, “and we want to bring them help in D.C.”
Hoekstra himself is assured of needed national help. Famously shy about raising money, the frugal Dutchman will have no worries with the national party behind him. With money not a concern, the former marketing executive can turn on the charm that won him nine elections representing Holland, Michigan.
A natural campaigner, Hoekstra is a fiscal conservative with a tendency towards eccentricity (he flirted with the controversial Fair Tax as a gubernatorial candidate). But his experience as a House Intelligence Committee chairman will also give him instant gravitas as a Senate candidate — a formidable résumé that not only matches Stabenow’s chairmanship of the Agriculture Committee, but will appeal to Michigan’s crucial “Macomb Democrats” and their conservative, pro-military leanings.
How much of a threat is Hoekstra to Stabenow? A nervous Democratic party flattered Hoekstra’s announcement with a flailing left hook:
“Pete Hoekstra is a congressman turned Washington lobbyist who has stood up for taxpayer-funded bonuses for bailed-out CEOs, tax giveaways for oil companies, and Republican efforts to privatize Medicare,” a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman told the Detroit News in shrill self-parody.
The game is on. Hoekstra vs. Stabenow. The future of the Senate — and Obamacare — is at stake.
— Henry Payne is editor of TheMichiganView.com and editorial cartoonist for the Detroit News.