2006-07-29 / Columnists

Michigan Politics

Yawner U.S. Senate Primary Starts to Wake Up
By George Weeks

On occasion in recent decades, Michigan Republicans have had some spirited, high visibility U.S. Senate primaries. Not now.

The low profile race between lawman Mike Bouchard and clergyman Keith Butler for the nomination about to be decided August 8 is, for example, in sharp contrast to the well-covered 1984 bruising battle won by ex-astronaut Jack Lousma over ex-Congressman Jim Dunn.

Despite money woes and postprimary polling that had him 40 points behind Senator Carl Levin, Lousma gave Levin what still stands as his toughest reelection fight. Levin won with 52 percent of the vote. He got 61 percent in 2002.

In 1994, there was a good deal of media and public interest in the GOP primary between Ronna Romney and Spencer Abraham. He won, 52-48, and then defeated Congressman Bob Carr to win the open seat that had been held for 18 years by Democrat Don Riegle.

Just as Michigan's governors historically get more public attention than senators, the gubernatorial campaigns usually overshadow the senatorial. This year is unique. GOP gubernatorial challenger Dick DeVos bought the early political spotlight - more than $10 million in TV ad buys through July 28 (including about $991,000 on stations serving the Upper Peninsula and the northern lower).

DeVos gained at least a temporary lead in the polls, which led to front page coverage in the Detroit newspapers that sponsored several recent polls.

DeVos "has taken the oxygen out" of the political atmosphere, Bouchard Campaign Manager Matt Godlewski cited among reasons when I asked July 8 why there was so little relative buzz (in the media, public, and party) about the Senate primary.

On July 10, Oakland County Sheriff Bouchard launched a TV ad campaign in all markets in both peninsulas. Godlewski said Friday, "We're finally getting some attention."

Former Republican State Chairman Dave Doyle, a political consultant whose clients include Butler, said political reporters are finding "it more fun to write about" the governor race, but said interest in the Senate primary is picking up among party activists.

Rich Robinson of the nonpartisan Michigan Campaign Finance Network, who tracks ad spending in a more timely manner than the law requires, calculates that Bouchard so far has spent about $275,000 for TV spots. He pegs Butler's spending at a mere $35,750 - and just for cable TV.

But Butler, a former Detroit city councilman whose highly effective spot has him walking down a busy city sidewalk vowing he's "ready to get to work in Washington, and start cleaning up the mess they've made," is poised to begin airing in broadcast markets across the state.

Bouchard's first ad was weak, flashing through his background, mentioning the Senate race only in small type. His second, now underway, gives him a talking role, pledging to fight illegal

immigration - "I'm a 20-year lawman. Anything that starts with illegal, I'm going to be against."

On the trail, Butler and Bouchard both have been critical of what's going on in Washington, where, of course, Republicans rule at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

The GOP Senate primary may be a yawner this time around. But once Stabenow's opponent is known, there'll be a rapid escalation of interest, and money pouring into Michigan for what looms as a high profile race.

"Heroes and Hostiles"

The Council for Citizens Against Government Waste last week honored Representative Pete Hoekstra (R-Holland) as a "Taxpayer Hero" for being among 52 representatives with a score of 80 percent or higher on voting for its favored tax and budget issues during the 2005 session.

Representative Dave Camp (R-Midland) was in the "Friendly" category for scoring 67 percent. Northern Michigan's other congressman Bart Stupak (D-Menominee) was deemed "Hostile" for a nine percent score.

Also hostile, with a 17 percent score, was Senator Carl Levin. Senator Debbie Stabenow, with a 21 percent score, was merely "Unfriendly."

This is not the first year that the council has been Democraticunfriendly. George Weeks recently retired

after 22 years as political columnist for The Detroit News. His weekly Michigan Politics column is syndicated by Superior Features.

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