Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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Jack Lessenberry


Michigan’s U.S. Senate race has hint of finality



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DETROIT — In politics, things are never over until they are over — especially in Michigan.

Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat, was down by a dozen points in the polls days before the 2000 U.S. Senate election. She won.

Outgoing U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, now the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, conceded defeat on election night that year. Except that he won too.

But miracles don’t always happen. And so far, it looks very much as if another name will be added to this list: Pete Hoekstra. Jack Hoogendyk. Mike Bouchard. Rocky Raczkowski. Spencer Abraham. Ronna Romney. Bill Schuette. Jim Dunn. Jack Lousma. Phil Ruppe. Marvin Esch. Robert Griffin.

That’s the roster of Republicans who were nominated to run for the U.S. Senate in Michigan since 1972. These dozen candidates have something else in common: Every one of them lost, most by wide margins.

Since Richard Nixon was president, Michigan Republicans have lost 12 out of 13 U.S. Senate contests. The one exception: Mr. Abraham, who won in 1994, one of the two best years for the Michigan GOP in modern times. Six years later, however, Ms. Stabenow beat him.

This was supposed to have been the year when Republicans changed that narrative. GOP Senate nominee Terri Lynn Land, 56, has been popular statewide.

She was twice elected secretary of state, the last time by a landslide in 2006, an otherwise Democratic year. She’s running for the U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by the retiring six-term incumbent, Democrat Carl Levin.

Ms. Land’s Democratic opponent, three-term U.S. Rep. Gary Peters, 55, has been well-known only in his Detroit area district. Twelve years ago, he lost his only previous statewide race, a bid for attorney general, after a weak campaign.

Ms. Land, whose father is a millionaire developer from the Grand Rapids area, also was attractive because of her ability and willingness to spend heavily on her own campaign. So far, however, the Land campaign has been disappointing.

The candidate has ducked the press. She appeared to have a mini-meltdown at the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce’s annual Mackinac Conference in May.

After a wooden speech and a session with reporters in which she appeared not to understand major issues, she threw up her hands and ran from the room.

Since then, she has appeared to have been in hiding. Polls show her falling steadily farther behind. Last month, her campaign received the devastating news that the Detroit chamber, which nearly always endorses GOP candidates, is supporting Mr. Peters instead.

That endorsement may not sway many votes, but may be most important in a financial sense. Republicans nationally have made recapturing the U.S. Senate a key priority in November.

The Detroit chamber’s endorsement signals that this race is probably unwinnable for the GOP, and conservative big-money groups might be better off putting their dollars elsewhere.

This campaign has nearly four months to go, and things could change. But you have to wonder whether things might have been different if four years ago, Ms. Land had run for Congress when longtime Grand Rapids Republican Vern Ehlers retired.

Years ago, Ms. Land told me she idolized former President Gerald Ford. She said she had long dreamed of some day taking the seat he had held in Congress. She probably would have been a near-cinch to win.

First-term members of Congress do not usually get much media scrutiny. They have time to learn issues and get comfortable with the media.

But instead, after toying with a run for governor, Ms. Land made the odd choice to become the running mate of Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, as his candidate for lieutenant governor. He finished a bad fourth in the 2010 GOP primary for governor.

Things could change for Ms. Land’s campaign. But as of now, nobody is betting on it.

Three years ago, Michigan joined a number of other states in significantly relaxing restrictions on fireworks, despite warnings from health-care professionals. Michigan lawmakers claimed that fireworks essentially are safe, and that legalizing them would help state merchants raise as much as $10 million a year in new sales tax revenue.

That hasn’t panned out, in terms of revenue or safety. This year, estimates are that fireworks sales will net the state about $3.64 million. And according to national statistics and the University of Michigan’s trauma burn center, fireworks injuries are way up.

The four young daughters of Maher Aburouman of Detroit may never have used fireworks, but they are victims for life because of them. On July 4, their father lit a rocket at about 10:30 p.m.. Instead of soaring into the sky, it speared him in the chest, killing him almost instantly.

Nationally, fireworks injuries rose from 8,700 in 2012 to 11,400 last year, according to the U.S. Product Safety Commission. Common sense would suggest it is time for the Michigan Legislature to revisit this issue.

Jack Lessenberry, a member of the journalism faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit and The Blade’s ombudsman, writes on issues and people in Michigan.

Contact him at: omblade@aol.com

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