GOP Wavers on Jane Abraham

Posted May 18, 2005 at 6:48pm

Jane Abraham’s biggest asset in a possible Senate bid next year also appears to be her biggest liability — her husband, former Sen. Spence Abraham (R-Mich.).

For the past nine weeks, Jane Abraham has been mulling whether to challenge Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who beat her husband in 2000 after he served just one term in the Senate.

She is on hiatus from her position as president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a group that supports candidates who oppose abortion rights, has been circulating at Michigan Republican Party events, and recently commissioned a poll.

The poll showed her “competitive” with Stabenow in a head-to-head matchup next year, said Chris Wilson of Wilson Research Strategies in Washington, D.C., who conducted the survey, though he would provide no details.

“There is no question that if I get into this thing that I will be the nominee,” Abraham said. “I have been quite encouraged by the reception that I’m getting within the party and business community,” she said.

Abraham does not think her husband’s defeat, nor the fact that she has not lived in Michigan since he served as Energy secretary in President Bush’s first Cabinet, would hurt her in the GOP primary or general election. But many Republicans in the Great Lakes State disagree.

“People are not thrilled about it,” said one Michigan Republican political consultant, who did not want to be identified. “They like her a lot but people are still smarting from Spence’s loss and the tremendous amounts of money that were raised on his behalf and then lost.

“Also people are skeptical that she will actually move [back] to Michigan and they are wondering why now? She’s never had any [political] ambition before,” the consultant added.

As Abraham continues to ponder the race, the Rev. Keith Butler (R) is moving full steam ahead — he recently snagged the endorsement of Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox (R) — and many donors seem to be waiting for a bigger named Republican to enter the mix.

Party officials still hold out hope that Domino’s Pizza chief Dave Brandon or Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land will run.

Abraham committed to moving back to Michigan if she decides to run, though she declined to say where the family will reside if she doesn’t.

“We’re all pretty excited about coming home, Michigan is home for all of us,” she said. “It isn’t going to be an issue.”

Abraham also said that as she makes the party rounds she finds plenty of people who are excited about her potential candidacy and few who think her husband’s failures will haunt her.

“That’s not what I’m getting,” she said. “If I get in the race, I’m not running a Spence Abraham re-elect campaign. It will be Jane Abraham running.”

As true as she may want that to be, Bill Ballenger, editor of the Inside Michigan Politics newsletter, said Jane Abraham has not carved out an identity separate from her husband’s.

“She was always seen as an appendage of” [Spence Abraham’s], Ballenger said.

Many Republicans are not too enthusiastic about another Abraham candidacy, several party strategists said.

Another state Republican operative said that Abraham will be branded with her husband’s loss, regardless of the fact that she had nothing to do with it.

“The anti-Jane sentiment is hard to read,” the operative said. “It isn’t animosity toward her but lingering disappointment toward Spence.”

Donors will “write her a check but they won’t throw her a fundraiser,” the source concluded.

Abraham is not fundraising yet — she would not indicate which way she is leaning nor set a time frame for her decision, beyond saying she’ll make one “sooner rather than later.”

However, she said she is confident she could raise enough money to win the primary and election.

Abraham does have a network that she could quickly tap but it may be quite shallow, said John Truscott, a Republican consultant and former communications director to then- Michigan Gov. John Engler (R).

“I think her base will come from people who have been her friends” and who previously supported her husband, he said. But “the loyalty doesn’t necessarily extend to Jane. In our party here, you have to go out and earn it in your own right.”

And many do not think Abraham has done that.

“She was a very solid political operative but to take the leap to U.S. Senate — that’s a big leap,” Truscott said.

Right after college Jane Abraham went to work for the state GOP, becoming its political director. She met Spence Abraham while working on an unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign in 1982. For the past eight years she has led the Susan B. Anthony List, a paid position, and about three years ago she launched Abraham Strategies, a strategic marketing firm. In between, she was a homemaker.

Abraham said she would play up her “life experiences” in a campaign, focusing on her background as a homemaker, small business owner and activist.

“It’s an asset that I don’t have previous [elected office] experience, the perspective that I have are issues that people care about,” she said.

One Republican consultant said that if Abraham is going to run, she needs to decide soon and quickly work to build her own brand.

“She could win; she’s a dynamic woman and a great campaigner but she’s got to be different from husband and so far, she’s not making that impression,” the consultant said.

“She’s a lovely person and everybody likes her enormously but it [just] seems like someone needs a job in the family,” the consultant added.

Ballenger said her candidacy would be unprecedented. He said he could not recall a time when the spouse of a defeated incumbent has sought to challenge the victor in the very next election.

Nevertheless, Steve Mitchell, a Republican pollster who does surveys for The Detroit News and WDIV-TV in Detroit, said Stabenow is vulnerable and that Abraham could be a serious candidate.

Officially, both the state party and the National Republican Senatorial Committee remain neutral at this early stage.

“We have great faith in Jane’s abilities and in herself,” said Michigan GOP spokesman Nate Bailey. “She’s been tremendously successful at Susan B. Anthony [List] and done lots of civic-minded things, she would be a very capable and credible candidate.”