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Carol Cain

Carol Cain

Michigan’s GOP U.S. Senate Race

August 3, 2012

U.S. Republican Senate candidate Pete Hoekstra admitted regret over his racially insensitive Super Bowl commercial intended to bash Sen. Debbie Stabenow but which backed fired on him instead.

Clark Durant, a Grosse Pointe lawyer and businessman, said media reports about his pay at Cornerstone Schools (topping $500,000 –which would be more than Gov. Rick Snyder, Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and some of Detroit Public School’s Emergency Manager Roy Roberts’ salaries combined) are inaccurate and are nothing more than political attacks.

Randy Hekman, who said God inspired him to get in, admitted he would not have done so had Hoekstra told him he intended to join in when they first talked about it.

photoHoekstra, Durant and Hekman, each wearing varying shades of conservative gray as far as ideology goes, are the ones still standing in a contentious U.S. Senate primary race that comes to an end this coming Tuesday.

The trio appeared exclusively on CBS62 “Michigan Matters” to talk about the race and the final hours.

The winner of the primary will move on to round two where he will face a rested and relaxed Stabenow sitting atop an enviable campaign war chest brimming with millions.

Before then, there are still some hours left as Teams Hoekstra, Durant and Hekman duke it out in the final stretch where each hopes there aren’t any last minute stumbles or gaffes to trip them up.

Gut check time
Running for elected office isn’t for the faint of heart, particularly a statewide race. For some who have gone down that road, it’s not something they would embrace again.

“I’d rather run down the street naked, than run for public office again,” Jim Nicholson, CEO of PVS Chemical in Detroit who ran unsuccessfully for U. S. Senate in 1996, once told me.

For Durant, 63, the Grosse Pointe businessman who ran for U.S. Senate in 1990 before losing in the GOP primary to Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, it’s his second time down the U.S. Senate aisle.

“I can hear the voices and the hearts of people who love their country, but are afraid of where Washington is taking us,” Durant said in campaign mode. “But they are hopeful change can come. And these are people from all parts of society. I want to be their voice, and heart.”

Things have been a bit more rancorous in the media of late as attacks over Durant’s pay at Cornerstone Schools has played out with an odd fellow pairing of Democratic leadership and Hoekstra loaded for bear.

“Let’s get the facts right,” Durant said when I asked about his compensation. “I received $200,000 as the CEO of Cornerstone, no benefits, no raises, no nothing…a separate foundation chaired by Robert Lutz that I was being paid $250,000 to do a lot of work to create a new common school…My salary has never been $500,000,” he said adding media reports have been inaccurate.

“I am closing the gap and a recent Rasmussen poll shows I am down by only 9 points (against Stabenow),” a defiant Durant added. “The Democrats are trying to get rid of me. They’d rather go up against Hoekstra than an outsider who will challenge them on things like jobs and regulation.”

Mark Brewer, chair of the Michigan Democratic Party, disputed that and said he didn’t care who won the primary. Brewer filed a complaint with the IRS against Durant adding he and his daughter took money from a foundation for their work at Cornerstone. “Whenever we see a Republican break the law, we will call them out on it,” Brewer said.

Durant has disputed Brewer’s claims and said he did not do anything illegal.

Interestingly, Team Hoekstra also came out with guns blaring after Durant’s TV show comments.

“Mr. Durant continues to mislead voters about his pay arrangements, activities with his Super PAC, and Hoekstra’s record with his negative attacks,” said Greg VanWoerkom, spokesman for Hoekstra.

photoHoekstra, who hails from Holland and has led in the polls, has been undoubtedly aided in part by having statewide name recognition from his 2010 run for governor and being a former Congressman from Michigan. Until late, he had been focused solely on Stabenow.

Hoekstra, 58, has been putting Stabenow and Barack Obama in the same boat, one he says fraught with holes that will sink them with voters in November.

“Debbie Stabenow will be held accountable for her anti-growth record that has cost Michigan families their jobs and has mortgaged the next generation’s future with skyrocketing debt,” said Hoekstra.

Hekman, 65, a Navy veteran and former prosecutor and juvenile court judge from Grand Rapids, has refused to get in the sandbox. He won’t criticize his Republican competitors –or even Stabenow– adding God inspired him to run.

Despite bumps in his plan –including Hoekstra’s entrance in the field after telling Hekman he would not, the father of 12 children (ages 19 to 40) and 22 grandchildren –has stayed the course.

“We have put 70,000 miles on our car,” said Hekman as he and wife, Marcia, have crisscrossed the state.

Marcia Hekman created an election video “Sweeter By the Dozen” on Youtube.

Hekman said he and his two GOP counterparts would vote the same on things in Washington but added he offered a difference in ideology.

“It’s more than just politics. We need to get to the heart of the people. And that is what is wrong in Washington. We need to work together,” Hekman said.

“God wants us in this thing to help bring healing to the country,” Hekman said.

photoWhen asked about money, the mother’s milk of politics, Hekman said, “I was raising good money until Hoekstra got in.”

After his bid for governor (coming in second to Rick Snyder), Hoekstra explained he and his family were exhausted.

“But I kept hearing from people,” Hoekstra said. “I looked around and saw what was going on – the voting record of Stabenow, the high unemployment and the devastating economy.” Despite grueling times, Hoekstra and wife, Diane, dove in anyway.

Speaking of track records, Durant’s tactic has been to keep a laser focus on Hoekstra. “When people find out that he voted for the $700 billion Wall Street bailouts (like Stabenow), thousands of wasteful earmarks like the “Bridge to Nowhere” (like Stabenow), they move quickly and sharply from him to me,” Durant said.

Durant has lured an impressive cast of Tea Party favorites like Steve Forbes and Sen. Fred Thompson to Michigan on his behalf.  The Tea Party Express– the country’s largest tea party PAC — endorsed Durant on Thursday – saying he was more electable in Michigan.

But perhaps the event that gave Durant interesting momentum, winning the coveted endorsement of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, took place in Hoekstra’s backyard.

“That was like the troops landing at Normandy,” Durant said. “Now we’re about to try to liberate Paris.”

Regardless of the last minute angling, whoever is left standing knows the battle is just starting.

“This is going to be a very competitive race,” said Stu Sandler, GOP strategist. “People are frustrated with how things are going and that is going to bode well for conservatives in the fall election whether it is Hoekstra or Durant.”

Bill Ballenger, editor of Inside Michigan Politics, said Republicans have a dismal record when trying to take down an incumbent Democratic senator.

“It hasn’t happened in 70 years when Homer Ferguson ousted Democrat incumbent Prentiss Brown,” Ballenger added.

When asked for his tea leave read of the fall Senate contest, Ballenger said: “The GOP has two chances vs. Stabenow –slim, and none.”

Carol Cain is the Emmy winning Senior Producer/Host of CBS62 “Michigan Matters” which airs 11:30 a.m. Sundays. She writes a column in Sunday’s Detroit Free Press. She can be reached at

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