By RJ Wolcott
Newly re-elected Sen. Debbie Stabenow not only defeated her Republican rival Pete Hoekstra, she outpaced the president in nearly every Michigan county.
Stabenow clenched 58 percent of the vote Tuesday to Hoekstra’s 38 percent. She won 61 of 83 counties, according to the Michigan Secretary of State’s unofficial election results. Obama won 20 counties.
It was Stabenow’s ability to receive more support than even the president that demonstrated the state’s approval of her performance, said Joe DiSano, cofounder of the Mainstreet Strategies advocacy firm which deals with political candidates across the state. She gained a higher percentage of votes in every county except Shiawassee, where the president received 51 percent of the vote compared to Stabenow’s 47 percent. The two Democrats also tied in Berrien County with races within one percent in Ottawa and Kent counties.
While Stabenow fared better in votes across the state, she wonfour fewer than the 65 counties she wonin 2006 over Republican Michael Bouchard. But she won eight of the 10 largest counties in Michigan, the same number she captured in her 2006 campaign.
Stabenow’s significant margin of victory was due to her ability to transcend partisan politics among rural voters, said DiSano. Stabenow, who chairs the Senate Agricultural Committee, was instrumental in getting the bipartisan Farm Bill passed. That gave her support from traditionally conservative voters and clinched the Michigan Farm Bureau’s support, according to DiSano.
The campaign also was heavily influenced by both camps’ campaign strategies, he said.
“The results were as much about Stabenow’s successes as the ineptitude of the Hoekstra campaign,” DiSano said.
The Hoekstra campaign featured poorly received advertisements and personal gaffs,
DiSano said. Campaign flops prevented Hoekstra from getting a foothold in the election.
“Hoekstra wanted it to be about foreign policy and Obama; Stabenow won because voters in the state like her and approve of the job she has been doing in Washington,” DiSano said.
The election also demonstrated how strong Stabenow’s base is among Michigan counties. The only county that swung significantly compared to 2006 for Stabenow is Sanilac where she picked up 10 percent more votes than her 2006 campaign.
Hoekstra made headway in several counties compared to 2006 Republican candidate Michael Bouchard. Alpena, Luce, and Dickinson counties each saw double digit percent gains compared to 2006 with 21, 18 and 11 percent respectively. Hoekstra also demonstrated strong support in his western Michigan base where he won Ottawa, Kent and Allegan counties.
Even with strong base support and significant pickups in several areas, the Hoekstra campaign saw a 7 percent decline from Bouchard’s results in 2006. Stabenow received a 3 percent increase compared to her last race. She received massive support from higher population counties including Wayne County where she obtained 76 percent of the vote. She also had strong performances in Washtenaw and Ingham counties. Stabenow also continued her 2006 dominance of the Upper Peninsula, winning every single county.
Hoekstra fell victim to the same issues many challengers have faced over the last few election cycles, said Tom Shields, president of Marketing Resource Group, a Lansing-based communications firm.
“The problem with challengers is they exhaust all their resources in the primary races,” Shields said “They often don’t have a dime in the bank and are forced to regroup for the general election.”
This pitfall combined with Stabenow’s significant fundraising before the campaign, left Hoekstra unable to connect early on, he said.
“Early polling showed Stabenow was falling victim to anti-establishment sentiment amongst voters, but Hoekstra was never able to take advantage,” Shields said.
With two statewide losses, Shields was not optimistic about Hoekstra’s chances of running again for office. While Hoekstra was not personally damaged by the loss, according to Shields, Republicans may think twice before nominating him again.