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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.

Anuzis, a runner-up for the Republican National Committee chairmanship in 2009 and 2011, said this race would be different from anything he has done before. “The reality is party politics is pretty different than electoral politics,” he said.

Anuzis was first elected chairman of the Michigan GOP in 2005 and re-elected in 2007. He now serves as Michigan’s national committeeman. Though he may not have broad name recognition in Michigan, he referred to Republican Spencer Abraham’s 1994 Senate win after losing a bid for RNC chairman. Anuzis told Roll Call that his connections with donors and GOP activists would give him an advantage most first-time candidates don’t have.

Hekman was elected judge in 1974 and left in 1990 to start the Michigan Family Forum, he told Roll Call. He currently works for a church and some scientific nonprofits. He said he has made a number of calls to Republicans and other potential candidates and plans to make a decision about the race by March 1.

“I just sense that we need God in our country,” he said. “I’m just going to be very blunt. We don’t need more government.”

Hoekstra, who came in second in the Republican gubernatorial primary in 2010, has said he’s considering the race, but he recently took a job at a law firm in Washington, D.C. The Republican members of the House delegation may be motivated to consider the statewide race since reapportionment means Michigan will have one less House seat in 2012, but none of them have begun moving in that direction.

Stabenow has some formidable strengths and could be boosted by sharing a ballot with President Barack Obama.

At the beginning of the cycle, she has $2 million on hand, one of the best totals among Senators up for re-election in 2012. Over a political career that started in 1975, she has lost only once, in a Democratic primary for governor in 1994. She steadily climbed the political ladder in Michigan, serving on a county commission and in both chambers of the state Legislature before losing the 1994 race. She rallied in 1996 to win a House seat and then went on to defeat Abraham in 2000.

Stabenow’s office said she has no campaign manager or campaign structure in place this early in the cycle.

“Sen. Stabenow is not focused on the next election. She’s working on the job Michigan families sent her to do. Right now leaders ought to be working together to solve problems and create jobs, not already fighting over an election that is two years away,” spokesman Cullen Schwarz said in an e-mail.

The number of Republicans who are interested in the race may be a step ahead of where Republicans were in 2006, said Dave Doyle, a Michigan-based Republican consultant who served as chairman of the state party in the 1990s.

“As I recall, it was a fairly difficult recruiting process in that people didn’t view her as vulnerable back then, and it went a long time before a candidate emerged,” he said.

Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, the former state Senator who lost to Stabenow by 16 points in 2006, says whoever is nominated will have a better shot at winning than he did.

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