By R.J. WOLCOTT
Capital News Service
LANSING — Newly re-elected Sen. U.S. Debbie Stabenow not only defeated Republican rival Peter Hoekstra, but she also outpaced President Barack Obama in nearly every Michigan county.
Stabenow, D-Lansing, secured 58 percent of the vote to Hoekstra’s 38 percent in her campaign for a third term. She won 61 of 83 counties, according to the Secretary of State’s unofficial election results. Obama won 20 counties.
Hoekstra is a former member of the U.S. House from Holland who lost an earlier race for governor.
Political analysts cite several major reasons for Stabenow’s strong showing and Hoekstra’s poor performance.
It was Stabenow’s ability to receive more support than even the president that demonstrated voter approval of her performance in office, said Joe DiSano, co-founder of Main Street Strategies, an advocacy firm in Lansing.
She won a higher percentage of votes in every county except Shiawassee, where the president received 51 percent to Stabenow’s 47 percent. The two Democrats had the same percentage in Berrien County and were within 1 percent of each other in Ottawa and Kent counties.
At the same time, however, she won four fewer counties than the 65 she won in 2006 against Republican Michael Bouchard, currently the Oakland County sheriff. But she took eight of the 10 most populous counties, the same number as in 2006.
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 Agriculture Committee, was instrumental in getting the bipartisan Farm Bill passed by the Senate although it’s stalled in the House of Representatives. That gave her support from traditionally conservative voters and clinched the Michigan Farm Bureau’s support, according to DiSano.
The race 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, and campaign flops prevented him from gaining a foothold among the electorate.
“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 Stabenow’s strong base among Michigan counties.
Sanilac is the only county that swung significantly compared to 2006. She picked up 10 percent more votes there than six years ago.
Hoekstra made headway in several counties compared to Bouchard. Alpena, Luce and Dickinson counties each saw double-digit percent gains for the GOP nominee. Hoekstra also demonstrated strong support in his West Michigan base where he won Ottawa, Kent and Allegan counties.
Even with strong base support and significant pickups in several other areas, the Hoekstra campaign saw a 7 percent decline from Bouchard’s statewide results.
Meanwhile, Stabenow scored a 3 percent increase compared over her last race. She received massive support from higher-population counties including Wayne ,where she obtained 76 percent of the vote. She also performed strongly in Washtenaw and Ingham counties and won every Upper Peninsula county as she had in 2006.
Hoekstra fell victim to the same obstacles 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.”
That pitfall, combined with Stabenow’s significant early fundraising, left Hoekstra unable to connect with the public, 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 said he’s not optimistic about Hoekstra’s chances of successfully running again for office. While Hoekstra was not personally damaged by the Senate loss, according to Shields, Republicans may think twice before nominating him again.
By R.J. WOLCOTT