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Hoekstra Has To Avoid Missteps To Beat Stabenow

By: Kathy Barks Hoffman, AP Political Writer

DETROIT (AP) - Republican Pete Hoekstra inadvertently helped U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow early this year when his Super Bowl ad showing a young Asian-American woman speaking in broken English touched off complaints of racial insensitivity, leading to increased donations for the Democratic incumbent.

It's a misstep the newly minted GOP nominee can't repeat if he's going to oust Stabenow in November.

While national Republicans view the seat as good opportunity for a pickup, Stabenow enjoys all the advantages of a two-term incumbent. She has about four times as much cash available as Hoekstra and has earned the backing of the pro-business Detroit Regional Chamber as well as farmers who support the agriculture bill she helped push through the Senate.

But a July 24-31 poll by Lansing-based EPIC-MRA signals the Lansing Democrat isn't a shoo-in for re-election. Half of 600 likely voters polled statewide gave Stabenow a job rating of "just fair" or "poor," while only 41 percent gave her a positive rating. She led Hoekstra 49 percent to 35 percent in a head-to-head matchup, with 16 percent undecided. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Bernie Porn of EPIC-MRA notes that Stabenow can't be considered in safe territory if she's still polling below the 50 percent mark.

Stabenow's strong ties to Democratic Presidential Barack Obama could cut both ways in the fall election. Obama won Michigan in 2008 and now claims credit for helping General Motors and Chrysler surge after going through a federally financed bankruptcy. When Obama's doing well among independents, Stabenow's numbers go up, Porn said, something that Stabenow is trying to build on this week as she conducts a "jobs of the future" tour around the state.

"I've worked across the aisle on things that are especially important to Michigan, like fighting outsourcing and bringing good paying jobs back home, protecting the Great Lakes from Asian carp, and working across party lines to pass a bipartisan farm bill that cuts spending and strengthens Michigan's second largest industry," she said in an email Wednesday.

Hoekstra is tying Stabenow to the president's more divisive policies, such as the federal health care overhaul and the stimulus program. After dubbing Stabenow "the follower-in chief," he said Wednesday that state and national jobless rates above 8 percent leave her and Obama vulnerable to losses in both the Senate race and to GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a Michigan native.

"People in Michigan are still very concerned about the economy, they're very concerned about the debt," Hoekstra told The Associated Press in a Wednesday call. Republicans appreciate his campaign to curtail federal spending and cut taxes, he said, and "those are the same issues that will resonate with independents and Democrats."

Hoekstra said he learned from his unsuccessful 2010 gubernatorial run that he must concentrate on raising money and putting a solid campaign organization in place, lessons that helped him win a three-way GOP primary Tuesday.

Although he has raised less than half as much as Stabenow - $3.5 million - the sheer volume of super political action committees that have run ads in states that could swing control of the U.S. Senate to Republicans could level the playing field. Hoekstra also will be helped by having Romney at the top of the GOP ticket and the backing of top elected officials such as Gov. Rick Snyder.

"I've been a supporter of Pete from the very beginning," Snyder told reporters Wednesday at an auto-related conference near Traverse City. "I'll be working with him."

Stabenow, however, shouldn't have trouble getting out her own message after raising $8.3 million and having $4.6 million on hand after purchasing $3.3 million in ad time for October and November.

And Hoekstra faces issues of his own. The Holland Republican represented one of the state's most conservative congressional districts for 18 years before leaving to join a Washington consulting and lobbying firm last year. He faces a Democratic litany that he moved too far to the right to win the GOP nomination during the primary to be the general election victor.

Democrats cite the time in May he told tea party activists that CIA and FBI agents should staff a new federal office that would investigate the authenticity of presidential hopefuls' birth certificates, even though he finds "ludicrous" allegations by so-called "birthers" that Obama wasn't born in the U.S.

During a February campaign appearance with Herman Cain, he was quick to agree with the former GOP presidential candidate's assertion that the government was wrong to have bond holders take a bigger loss than the United Auto Workers during bankruptcy proceedings for General Motors and Chrysler, even though Hoekstra supported the federal rescue of the pair when he was in Congress.

State Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer said those are just a few examples of where Hoekstra is out of touch with Michigan voters.

"Even this morning (at a GOP unity meeting) ... he equivocated whether he supported funding for Planned Parenthood," Brewer said, referring to a group that runs women's health clinics in Michigan and nationwide. "He's going to have a hard time walking back from all these positions.

© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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