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GOP Sees Opportunity in Michigan Senate Race

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Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow narrowly leads Michigan Republicans in early polls for her re-election bid. She’s had a long stretch of successful wins in the state, but Republicans think she might be vulnerable in 2012.

At this point in the 2010 election cycle, longtime Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold (D) seemed like a lock for re-election, but today a Republican political novice holds his seat. In neighboring Michigan, Republicans are hoping for a similar victory over two-term Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) in 2012.

Republicans had a big year in both states in 2010: In each, the GOP picked up House seats and now controls both chambers of the state Legislature as well as the governor’s mansion.

Bill Ballenger, editor of the nonpartisan newsletter Inside Michigan Politics, said Feingold’s fate should be a warning to Stabenow.

“If Russ Feingold proved to be vulnerable in Wisconsin” and ultimately lost when nobody would have thought such a thing were possible, “certainly Stabenow fits the same profile,” he said Tuesday.

Ballenger pointed to both states’ narrowly Democratic lean and the two Senators’ liberal profiles as similarities. Stabenow, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, served in Democratic leadership in the Senate and supported Democrats’ priorities, including health care reform and the stimulus. Republicans say those factors and their allies’ enthusiasm following the 2010 elections will bolster their nominee and encourage donors who may have withheld contributions in past elections because they believed Stabenow would be impossible to beat.

“We’ve got a very engaged electorate right now,” Michigan GOP Chairman Bobby Schostak said. “They’re highly focused on the success of the last election.”

In a December Public Policy Polling survey, Stabenow barely led a pair of potential GOP challengers: Former Rep. Pete Hoekstra trailed her by just 1 point and Rep. Candice Miller was 2 points behind. Former Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land and former Gov. John Engler trailed Stabenow by single digits, as well.

Roll Call Politics rates this race Leans Democratic.

Though no one has jumped into the race yet, a laundry list of Republicans have been mentioned as potential opponents. Two of them, businessmen Tim Leuliette and Al Pease, have similar backgrounds to now-Sen. Ron Johnson, the GOP businessman who unseated Feingold. Neither has run for office before. Pease, the former CEO of Perceptron Inc., said he wouldn’t be able to self-fund in the same way Johnson or new Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) did in 2010.

Pease told Roll Call that he will make a decision about the race by April or May.

But several others are considering the race, including Land, former Michigan GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis and former juvenile court judge Randy Hekman.

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