Controversial Hoekstra Ad Gives Durant Opening In MI Senate Primary

This is the second article in a five part series covering some of the most important and hotly contested Republican primaries in the 2012 U.S. Senate race.

In the heart of the Rust Belt, battle lines are being drawn. A flock of eager Republicans are in the first months of what promises to be a hard-fought contest to secure the nomination for the Michigan Senate seat, currently held by Democrat Debbie Stabenow. With the August 7th primary election months away, the fight for endorsements, donations and the allegiance of voters has begun.

Currently, there are eight candidates vying for the Republican nomination, but polling and fundraising suggest a two man race: retired Congressman Pete Hoekstra and Clark Durant.

Representative Hoekstra served eighteen years in the United States House of Representatives prior to his retirement from Congress in 2010. Having lost his bid for the Republican nomination for Michigan Governor, it was widely speculated whether Hoekstra was prepared for another statewide run. Hoekstra initially declined to seek the Senate nomination last April, but announced his candidacy three months later in July of 2011.

Throughout the campaign Hoekstra has touted  a conservative congressional record and laid out a lengthy list of contrasts between himself Sen. Stabenow. He has been endorsed by a number of leading Republicans and strategists, including Paul Ryan, Dick MorrisSteve King and Herman Cain.

As the “comprehensive conservative” in the race, Clark Durant is making an effort to run to the right of Rep. Hoekstra. In his most recent campaign ad, Durant attempts to draw a strong comparison between Stabenow and Hoekstra by referencing their mutual support for debt ceiling increases and the TARP bailout.

Durant’s political background in Michigan is quite extensive, despite never having held an elected office. Durant spent much of the past four decades achieving significant victories for Hillsdale College and the Reagan Administration and providing education for underprivileged children. He has secured endorsements from several prominent conservative organizations, including the Madison Project and Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn, as well as conservative Senate stalwarts like Red State’s Erick Erickson and Utah’s Mike Lee. Rumor has it that South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint will endorse Durant, too.

The GOP Senate primary was recently brought to the forefront of the political debate after Hoekstra ran a controversial Super Bowl ad attacking “Michigan Senator DebbieSpenditNow.” In the ad, in which a Chinese American actress says in broken English that “your economy get weak, ours get very good” because of DebbieSpendItNow’s policies, has been labeled by many political commentators are racist.

 

 

A significant number of primary voters also found the ad in poor taste, according to Public Policy Polling’s (PPP) report. In the polling analysis PPP says “54% of voters in the state were familiar with [the ad], and within that group 45% said it made them less likely to vote for him compared to only 16% who considered it a positive and 37% who said it didn’t make a difference to them either way.”

Hoekstra’s ad seems to have given Durant an opening in the race. At least one Michigan official of Asian descent – Washtenaw County Commissioner Alicia Ping – to switch her support from Hoekstra to Durant.

Furthermore, a recent PPP survey shows that in in a head-to-head match-up, Stabenow would win against both Hoekstra (51%-37%) and Durant (50%-33%). The closeness of Durant and Hoekstra’s rankings says a lot about likely voters’ opinions of Hoekstra. “[O]nly 35% of voters have no opinion on him, but the ones that do don’t like him,” the report said. “He’s at 28% favorability and 38% unfavorability.”

Likewise, 69 percent of those polled had no opinion of Durant, 8 percent held a favorable opinion of him and 24 percent saw him unfavorably.

If Durant can find a way to increase his favorables while increasing his name ID, this could turn into one of the most competitive GOP primary races this year, making it one of my face Senate primaries to watch this spring.

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