GOP candidates for U.S. senate try to stand out in crowd of six

Sep 13, 2011

Republican candidates hoping to unseat U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow in 2012 held an unofficial debate in West Michigan this week. The Gerald R. Ford Republican Women’s Club hosted the event. The “Ford Women” of the club aren’t set on which man will make the best candidate.

Shortly after the hour-long debate Judy Kelly talks to her friends at the table about who they thought did well and who didn’t. Kelly is from Rockford, another Grand Rapids suburb just miles away from the country club here in Belmont. She says she listens for passion during these political debates.

“I found passion, strong passion, in two of the candidates; Clark Durant and also Randy Heckman.

Attorney Clark Durant told the group of around 50 people, “I am Debbie Stabenow’s worst nightmare”.

Durant is known in Detroit as an advocate for charter schools. Durant says his connections to the many parents and teachers who support his efforts would help him win over some democrats in a general election.

Kelly’s second pick, Randy Hekman, is a former probate judge in Kent County. He’s a pastor. He helped start the Michigan Family Forum, a conservative non-profit group that tries to influence state policy.

He wants the federal government to get rid of welfare…shift it to churches, non-profits and extended family. And he realizes it’s a sensitive issue.

“It tends to connect people to government indefinitely and generationally. That is not loving to do that to people who are otherwise capable of doing their part.”

All six candidates held many of the same views including lower taxes, cut federal spending, and repealing President Obama’s healthcare law. The difference was in the degree of conservatism.

Hekman says he’s in favor of eliminating the Department of Education, the Federal Researve, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Another contender, Roscommon businessman Peter Konetchy says he’d also like to see the Department of Labor, Transportation, Health and Human Services gone. He’d gladly sever ties with the United Nations. Konetchy also says Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to immigrate to the United States.

All of these declarations played well in this crowd. But Ford Woman Judy Kelly looks at the big picture.

“We need to come up with a strong candidate that can beat Debbie.”

Incumbent Senator Debbie Stabenow has held the seat for a decade.

“I know even though there’s two or three good candidates here, I don’t think they can beat her,” Kelly said, “I think we need someone that has the passion, has name recognition and also has the guts and the strength and has what it takes to beat her.”

Kelly hesitates to say which republican can beat Stabenow. The frontrunner is former Congressman Pete Hoekstra. He wasn’t at the forum. He sent former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land in his place.

“We’ve got a great team,” Land assured the group, “Pete knows how to raise money. He’s had a great fundraiser last night at Peter Secchia’s house. We’re raising cash. You’re going to have to have money to win this race.

Besides Stabenow and President Obama, Hoekstra was the punching bag.

Conservative activist Gary Glenn says Hoekstra has become too much of a Washington insider. Glenn pointed out to the Ford Women that Hoekstra was in federal office for nearly twice as long as Stabenow has been.

He tells me confidently Hoekstra cannot beat Stabenow no matter how much money he raises because Glenn says Hoekstra won’t get conservative voters.

“They are not going to knock on doors, pound yard signs and make phone calls for him just because he’s a republican, in particular the establishment republican.

Land defended Hoekstra’s conservative record.

She hints that the other candidates are naïve about the political battle ahead. She smiles after the debate, telling me there’s more involved in abolishing a federal agency or other big changes proposed here than the other candidates think.