2005-05-27 / Columnists

Michigan Politics

Republicans Line Up For Stabenow's Job
By George Weeks

Michigan Politics
Republicans Line Up For Stabenow's Job

A second and politically obscure clergyman has joined the race for the GOP nomination to oppose Sen. Debbie Stabenow in 2006. Other more prominent Republicans are considering entering the race.

The Rev. Jerry Zandstra, on leave as a minister in the Christian Reformed Church and program director of a Grand Rapids religious-oriented think tank, announced in Lansing and Grand Rapids last week he'll run for the Senate in his first bid for public office.

Zandstra, 41, said he's running because "Our culture, our economy, and our international engagement matter."

The Rev. Keith Butler, a former Detroit councilman who founded the Word of Faith Church in Southfield, announced against Stabenow in April on a tour that included Traverse City and Marquette.

Butler, a conservative activist who is endorsed by Atty. Gen. Mike Cox, has been making waves on the Lincoln Day speaking circuit in recent weeks and is the clear early frontrunner for the nomination. Republican State Chairman Saul Anuzis says, "he's doing an awesome job" on the trail.

Others are actively pondering, including businesswoman Jane Abraham, former Michigan GOP operative and wife of ex-Sen. Spencer Abraham, the former energy secretary now at the Hoover Institute in Washington. She said Friday she'd decide, "in the next handful of weeks--it could be less than that."

She's among potential or announced candidates for statewide offices expected to be at the June 2-6 Mackinac Island Conference of the Detroit Regional Chamber.

Abraham said that based on her discussions with party activists, polling and other soundings in the political "analytical phase" of her exploration, she'd run. But the Abrahams are now focusing on what's best for the family, including twin daughters, Julie and Betsy, 11, and son Spencer, 8. Abraham is president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a non-profit group of more than 100,000 members with a political action committee that supports pro-life candidates on abortion--a counter to the EMILY's List that bundles huge bucks for such pro-choice candidates as Stabenow and Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

Republican National Committeeman Chuck Yob is among GOP state leaders impressed with both Butler and Abraham. He said: "He's a better speaker; she's a better campaigner." Both are in the prevailing conservative mold of the Michigan GOP.

There are other Republican prospects in the distant Senate wings, including Domino's Pizza CEO David Brandon, a University of Michigan regent, and Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land.

But Brandon's prime option is a possible run for governor if former Amway President Dick DeVos, a crusader for school choice, declines the bid for governor that party leaders expect him to make. Land's stance is that she'd consider running for the Senate only if no one else is catching on.

Meanwhile, maneuverings for the nomination to oppose Stabenow are far less of a buzz in the party than the showdown over confirmation of President Bush's judicial nominees, including Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Richard Griffin of Traverse City.

It's an issue where Stabenow is front and center because of her initial opposition to the Michigan Four and her support of a proposed compromise that would result in zapping one of them--Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Henry Saad's nomination to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.

Yob, based on calls last week to the White House and such Republican senators as Arizona's John McCain, says "they're not going to throw Saad under the bus."

George Weeks is the political columnist for The Detroit News and is syndicated by Superior Features.

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