Monday, May 22, 2006

Smart Money's On Bouchard (So Far)

Going into the November election, it looks as if after all Republicans may lose one House of Congress, the House of Representatives, that is. Earlier I predicted that the GOP would lose possibly ten seats in November, but with sagging poll numbers for both the president and Congress, people are absolutely fed up with Republican policies right now.

What’s even more interesting about all of this right now, is that for some odd reason, Michigan looks as if it will be one of those states that bucks the tide this coming November. Jennifer Granholm has fallen behind the presumptive Republican nominee, Dick DeVos in the latest EPIC/MRA poll, even though they’re still within the margin of error (43% for DeVos, 42% for Granholm).

It’s easier to guess a likely outcome for governor; there’s only two candidates running. But, this is not the case for the US Senate, where Debbie Stabenow seeks a second term and faces three Republican challengers in Reverend Keith Butler, Mike Bouchard, and Jerry Zanstra. Zanstra, the weakest of the three has recently lost crucial support when Right to Life of Michigan withdrew its endorsement of him. RTL’s pullout means his campaign is practically over. His presence in the race is merely nominal at this point. Not that he was going to be much of a contestant in the first place.

That’s why the Republicans have a tough choice in Butler and Bouchard. Both are from Oakland County, both are well-funded, and can likely put up a strong campaign against the incumbent. But where they break from each other is perhaps that Bouchard stands a better chance of knocking off Stabenow in the fall, which may help the GOP maintain control of the Senate. I don’t think it’s likely the Republicans will lose control of the upper chamber, but it’s not a sure thing they’ll keep it, either.

Bouchard is currently the Oakland County Sheriff. This is crucial for a few reasons. The first is that him being elected to a county-wide office (by 61%), aids a Republican politician seeking to win that county. For decades the Republican nominee could always count on Oakland County as being the largest pool of votes in the general election. With the exodus of many African-Americans leaving Detroit and moving into the Oakland suburbs, the county is no longer a Republican stronghold. Bill Clinton in 1996, Al Gore in 2000, Jennifer Granholm in 2002, and John Kerry in 2004 all won Oakland County when they ran for president or governor. Stabenow lost Oakland County in 2000, but by just a slim 12,000 votes to Spencer Abraham.

Bouchard is an experienced politician. He has been elected to previous offices such as State Senator, and was an effective politician in Lansing. Bouchard is a fresh face, and if there’s to be an upset, it will be his upset of Debbie Stabenow in November. Stabenow is popular, there’s no denying that. But she has no accomplishment as a Senator, and really doesn’t have anything to offer but the same old Democratic talking points.

Bouchard knows Michigan better than any of his opponents. Despite his late entry into the race, he has been a full-go, energetic and enthusiastic politician. Of all three Republicans, he is definitely the most politically savvy. Butler may have more endorsements of key Michigan Republicans, but Bouchard’s appeal can excite Republican activists across the state who will turn out in November.

Butler has some strengths as well. But assessing just how much strength is a bit sketchy. The last office he was elected to was the Detroit City Council, back in 1989. He made no secret that he was a Republican running for a city-wide office in a heavily Democratic town, and Mayor Coleman A. Young was willing to help him blow the whistle about that. Butler ran, and he won, much to his credit, one of the top nine vote getters out of eighteen. This is his biggest selling point: that he as a Republican, can get votes of African-Americans who would otherwise vote Democratic, and thereby steal votes in both Detroit and Flint from Stabenow.

I appreciate Butler’s enthusiasm, and God’s speed if he can. But there’s something I worry about in his selling pitch. He won an office seventeen years ago, that had he ran against a Democrat in a one-on-one race, may not have likely won. Second, seventeen years ago is a long time out of the game. Yes, he served until 1993, but he’s been running his Word of Faith Ministries ever since, and that hasn’t helped him politically in my eyes. Not because he’s a preacher, not because part of Word of Faith’s message is that financial prosperity and spiritual growth go hand in hand, but because he hasn’t been pressing the flesh as much as he could have in that time.

If Butler wants to appeal to African-American voters, it’s going to take more than being more than someone who was elected to a city-wide office in the state’s largest city to convince them to vote for him. Republicans nominated Bill Lucas to run against then-Gov. Jim Blanchard in 1986, and Lucas had his hat handed to him. Lucas was then a Wayne County Executive, which Republicans in Michigan thought would help them in dethroning Blanchard. Wayne County is the largest county in Michigan, and Lucas was a conservative African-American, which to be honest, is somewhat of a political anomaly (that’s like having a pro-lifer being a spokesman for the feminist movement).

Republicans’ problem in nominating Butler is that they haven’t learned from 1986. They don’t understand the African-American community. Nominating a black candidate to head your ticket isn’t going to sell to African-Americans just because he or she is black. Republicans just don’t do their homework on this one, and it’s a wonder there’s this disconnect between the black community and the Republican Party. As long as Republicans don’t understand African-Americans, they can’t make inroads in that voting demographic.

This is in no way to say I’m against Butler. Quite the contrary, if he is nominated August 8, I will certainly vote for him over Debbie Stabenow. From a personal standpoint, I like Butler more than Bouchard. Butler had the courage to take on a popular incumbent when no one else would. It wasn’t until well after Butler’s campaign had been established that Bouchard decided to get in the race because he thought he could also win his county, which in turn, would turn other Republicans out across the state. A friend of mine pointed this out to me at the Hillsdale Lincoln Day Dinner, and I couldn’t have agreed more.

My main guy, Joe Schwarz, endorsed Butler. I have even had the pleasure of meeting Butler on a few occasions. The last time was a few weeks ago at the Lenawee County Lincoln Day Dinner where I sat next to him and ate dinner with him and Dr. Schwarz. He was very courteous and polite, and he even signed a copy of his book Reviving the American Spirit, which I graciously accepted. I didn’t ask for it, he just offered it out of the blue. To that I say, my hat’s off to him.

Butler at this point, may very well be the establishment candidate, given the number of his endorsements significantly outweigh those of Bouchard. But it seems as though for now, Bouchard has that intrinsic value that Butler lacks. Bouchard can boast of more accomplishments in recent memory than Butler. Bouchard and Butler are charismatic in their own way, but there’s no guarantee that Butler can turn out voters in heavily Democratic areas (like Detroit and Flint), the same way Bouchard can energize conservative and moderate-leaning Republicans across the state.

In other words, my head is with Bouchard, but my heart is with Butler. I’m sure I’ll get more coaxing in the days ahead.

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