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Michigan Impossible

The hottest race nobody's talking about is in Michigan.

In a politically diverse state, GOP incumbent Sen. Spence Abraham, though well-funded, may be experiencing a premature case of the sophomore blues. And Democratic Rep. Debbie Stabenow, also flush with campaign cash, is hungry for a victory.

Polls show the race is either candidate's to win. But Jennifer Duffy, Senate editor of the Cook Political Report points out that for an incumbent, Abraham's failure to top 40 percent in state opinion polls should be worrisome.

Abraham has spent $1.4 million and has $5 million on hand. He hopes to raise $11 million.

Stabenow has raised $3.4 million and has $2.1 million on hand, according to campaign finance records.

Stabenow is a savvy and gregarious campaigner who in 1996 beat incumbent U.S. Rep. Dick Chrysler in one of the state's most competitive swing districts. However, her only presence on a statewide ballot came when she was trounced as a Democratic candidate for Lt. Governor in 1994, a GOP landslide year.

Abraham's campaign has suffered through a series of distractions - most notably a brouhaha over his support for more visas for foreign workers to fill highly skilled U.S. jobs.

From March to May, a relentless series of ads from anti-immigration groups forced Abraham to focus on defending his stance rather than promoting his overall accomplishments.

Along with attacks from the right, Abraham is being hammered by Democrats who say he's overly beholden to special interests.

Abraham, however, is not taking all this lying down. True to new millennium form, the latest campaign hot stuff has to do with the Internet. Abraham's people put up a site called Liberal Debbie, devoted to tweaking Stabenow for what they call a level of liberalism that's out of touch with most Michigan voters.

But Carol Butler, Stabenow's campaign manager, made a little hay out of the anti-Debbie site. She told this week, "It's standard, boiler plate, desperate campaign rhetoric. It's not a label they are going to be able to pin on Debbie Stabenow very easily."

And on Friday, the Michigan state Democratic party went up with an answer site, called Dollars and Spence.

Duffy says that, while the sites mark a decided entry into negative territory, they nevertheless make clear what the candidates think is going to win or lose the election in November: making the race about the other candidate.

"Michigan is a tough state, it's always going to be tough," said Abraham spokeswoman Nina DeLorenzo. "We're not taking anything for granted. We're going to fight hard."

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