2005-08-13 / Editorials

Republicans Begin To Ratchet Up Campaigns for Primary, A Year Away Michigan Politics By

George Weeks

The Republican primary is a year away, but party Pooh Bahs in Lansing and Washington already are treating gubernatorial contender Dick DeVos and Senate hopeful Keith Butler as presumptive nominees.

A big reason is that several prospective formidable contenders in each race have opted out. Among such Senate prospects last week was Domino's Pizza boss David Brandon, a University of Michigan regent who will be heard from in years ahead.

Another reason is that DeVos, a wealthy West Michigan businessman, and former Detroit Councilman Keith Butler, a pastor with a flock of about 20,000, have roared out of the starting gate with considerable media glare. Their competitors, far less known in the party, toil in relative obscurity and with less money.

DeVos, one of the nation's top donors to the GOP, and Butler, founder of the Word of Faith International Center in Southfield, are solid with conservatives who dominate the Michigan GOP.

Last week, DeVos ratcheted up his campaign with an announcement that Detroit-born Matthew Dowd, chief 2004 campaign strategist for President George W. Bush, will be senior adviser to the DeVos campaign.

"It's sad for me to see my home state struggling so much while states across the country are seeing their economies rebound and move forward," Dowd said in a press release from John Truscott, who was communications director for ex-Gov. John Engler and just named to do the same for DeVos.

DeVos also announced Greg McNeilly, former executive director of the Michigan GOP and campaign media director for the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, as his campaign manager.

This week, DeVos will announce more high-powered consultants with Bush connections. Among them: media consultant Alex Castellanos, whose campaign belt is notched with nine senatorial and six gubernatorial campaigns.

The DeVos steamroller does not intimidate another GOP gubernatorial contender, Sen. Nancy Cassis, R-Novi.

"I'm not ready to concede," she said Friday in Lansing, where, as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, she is a major player in the GOP-ruled Legislature's efforts to reach agreement with Gov. Jennifer Granholm on tax and budget issues. "It's just too early to crown the next standard-bearer for governor."

Another Republican senator, Valde Garcia of Howell, threw in the gubernatorial towel last week but Rep. Jack Hoogendyke of Kalamazoo remained. The Rev. Jerry Zandstra, program director of a Grand Rapids religion-oriented think tank, has been active as a contender to oppose U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow.

On Friday, Butler won endorsements of U.S. Reps. Candice Miller of Harrison Township (who opted out of the Senate race but left the door slightly ajar for a gubernator bid) and David Camp of Midland. Camp said "I've known Keith for many years and I am confident that not only will he be able to put a successful campaign together, but more importantly he has the qualities and ideas our state needs in the U.S. Senate."

Officially, Republican State Chairman Saul Anuzis and Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman are neutral on who should challenge Stabenow and Granholm, although Butler fits in with Mehlman's push to get more African-Americans as 2006 statewide nominees across the nation.

Anuzis and Mehlman see the writing on the wall of reality: Barring a stumble by DeVos or Butler--prompting a gubernatorial bid by Miller or a Senate bid by Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land--they view DeVos and Butler as de facto nominees.

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

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