MI-Sen: Bouchard vs. Stabenow

With the exception of Maria Cantwell’s photo-finish win in Washington State, the closest U.S. Senate race of 2000 took place in Michigan, where Democrat Debbie Stabenow unseated Republican Sen. Spence Abraham by 66,259 votes out of more than 4 million cast (49% to 48%). It was the most expensive Senate race in Water Wonderland history and the first since 1942 in which a senator was elected without a majority of the vote.

There was another interesting side to that Michigan Senate race of six years ago: the concentration of Stabenow’s vote. According to the Almanac of American Politics, “In the metro Detroit area, Stabenow led 57% to 40%. Stabenow carried only 13 of the state’s 83 counties, but she ran essentially even in critical Oakland and Macomb Counties.”

In effect, that’s what Stabenow’s race against conservative Republican Mike Bouchard this year boils down to: the three most populous counties in Michigan. In Detroit-based Wayne County, Bouchard can take more than the 40% of the vote Abraham did by turning out the Republican base. In Macomb—famed in national political reporting as the home of so many “Reagan Democrats”—Bouchard’s vigorous pro-life, anti-tax, and pro-2nd Amendment positions resonate and present a striking contrast with the polar opposite stands of the arch-liberal Stabenow (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 11%).

And in Oakland, well, the 50-year-old Bouchard is its favorite son, as the two-term county sheriff and former state senator. The voters know where he stands, like him, and have a record of backing him.

Two key issues that underscore the sharp differences between Bouchard and Stabenow are taxes and immigration. In Bouchard’s words, “That Michigan’s unemployment rate is above the national average and the hemorrhaging of jobs in the automotive industry are wake-up calls to remind voters that my opponent has always opposed tax cuts that spur incentives and create jobs.” The GOP hopeful is a strong supporter of making the Bush tax cuts permanent and of greater deregulation to help budding employers.

As for illegal immigration, the lawman-candidate takes his cue from the late Rep. Sonny Bono (R.-Calif.), who once famously said, “It’s illegal—so enforce the law.” To Bouchard, a guest-worker program for illegals “rewards people who have broken the law and not gone through the same process that my grandparents did when they came here from France. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who’s here illegally has to go back and apply to be a citizen and work here legally. That’s the world I live in—law enforcement.”

Were issues alone to decide the Bouchard-Stabenow race, the conservative candidate would be at least even money to win. But Stabenow will be fueled by support from limousine liberal groups ranging from the Sierra Club and Peace Action to EMILY’s List (which raised an estimated $1.4 million for the Democratic nominee in the twilight days of the 2000 race). In a nutshell, that’s the case for conservatives nationwide to rally to Mike Bouchard.