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Wednesday, October 10,2012

U.S. Senate race is over

by Kyle Melinn

During Paul Ryan’s Rochester visit Monday, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Pete Hoekstra took the microphone to plead for money.

He’s got a new television commercial and not a lot of money to buy up the shrinking TV ad time. Folks like his opponent, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, cherry-picked the good time blocks weeks ago.

So here’s Hoekstra, on his third or fourth anti-Stabenow message, looking at a double-digit deficit in the polls, fresh off a four-day weekend jaunt out of the country, trying desperately to give the media a reason to care about his campaign.

With four weeks until Election Day, there’s a word for this in politics: Toast.

Stick a fork in him. Hoekstra and his flailing campaign are done.

EPIC/MRA has Hoekstra down a whopping 20 points to Stabenow (55 to 35 percent), even as Mitt Romney has closed the gap with Obama to three percentage points, according to the same pollster. The national folks have written this one off, too. 

The Cook Political Report moved the Stabenow race matchup to “likely Dem,” with analyst Jennifer Duffy saying, “Republicans don’t have much hope of closing the gap here.”

The Rothenberg Report labels the race “Safe Democrat.” Roll Call calls it “Likely Democrat.” Nate Silver’s 538 blog for The New York Times gives it a 98.1 percent chance of a Democratic win.

The signs of Hoekstra’s impending defeat are everywhere. Stabenow already has $1.1 million spent on TV ads with an additional $4.1 million in space purchased from now until Election Day. As of Monday, Hoekstra had spent $0 on TV advertising — the kind of ads that really move the numbers.

Hoekstra put his first general election ad up this week after his latest “Worst Senator Ever” web video shtick on Stabenow got no traction. It was just too unbelievable.

In the 1920s, Michigan had a senator convicted of federal corruption charges. About 30 years ago, former U.S. Sen. Don Riegle saw his political career tank after being tied to the dubious “Keating Five.” 

We all know about the infamous “Debbie Spend-it-now” Super Bowl ad with the Asian woman with the phony Chinese accent propped up against a bike in a rice paddy. The racial insensitivity of that ploy earned him worldwide attention.

Stabenow intercepted this sad Hail Mary pass and returned it for a touchdown, raising 10 times more money than Hoekstra off the ad the day after it ran.

The new anti-Stabenow message goes after the Democrat for cutting Medicare and Medicare Advantage, a counterintuitive message considering she’s supposed to be Debbie “Spend-it-Now” whose “wasteful spending” and support of “Obamacare” makes her the worst senator ever.

Sigh. Beating Stabenow is a tall task. Her constituent relations team is impressive. She made herself accessible to the media this term. She’s avoided scandal. She won herself a chairwoman post. She votes with the Democrats most of the time but avoids toxic votes. She’s just really a good politician.

The Republicans’ best shot, outside of John Engler, was Hoekstra, a credible gubernatorial candidate of two years ago. But his campaign was undercut by a series of bad moves and the unwillingness of Michigan’s Tea Party to embrace him as the only real alternative to Stabenow.

Instead of helping him raise money and garner support, the Tea Partiers ran four different candidates against him in the primary, forcing the Holland Republican to walk the fine line of avoiding them and pandering to them.

He did neither well. He avoided them enough to earn their distrust. When he did extend an olive branch, he said something stupid like creating a “birther office.”

The splintering of the factions dragged the campaign into a crawl with Hoekstra playing defense. He essentially disappeared from the public eye for weeks at a time, nursing a humongous primary lead to a less-than-satisfying primary win over the underwhelming Clark Durant.

The strategy doesn’t seem to have changed, except he didn’t have the lead to work with.

The weekend before last, Hoekstra took off for Israel to meet with some like-minded academics and government officials about what they all felt about the Middle East. The conversation he brought back was interesting. 

But almost as interesting was thinking about how many towns Hoekstra could have hit on his bicycle in those same four days. How many Michigan voters could he have met? How much local press could he have garnered? 

About that bicycle ... the one he’s using on some of his campaign documents. It’s a reminder of the elbow grease and voter-to-voter contact he used to beat U.S. Rep. Guy VanderJagt in 1994, not the candidate he is today.

That Pete Hoekstra, with his folksy Dutch charm, probably wouldn’t be down 20 points four weeks from Election Day. 

With today’s ho-hum corporate campaign, Hoekstra was forced to become something he’s not, which has made him a goner.

(Kyle Melinn is the editor of the MIRS Newsletter. Hes at melinn@lansingcitypulse.com.)

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