It’s Insiders Vs. Outsiders in Race For Seat Hoekstra Is Giving Up

Posted September 30, 2009 at 6:29pm

The woes of the Michigan Legislature could play out in the state’s 2nd Congressional district next year, where several Republicans are running for retiring Rep. Pete Hoekstra’s (R) seat.

Hoekstra is running for governor, leaving his conservative west Michigan House seat up for grabs.

And with two political newcomers and one state House veteran in the race, plus another state lawmaker considering a bid, it’s unclear whether having a track record in office will be helpful or harmful in the August 2010 GOP primary.

Former state Rep. Bill Huizenga, former professional football player Jay Riemersma and businessman Bill Cooper have already announced their campaigns. State Sen. Wayne Kuipers has not made a decision about the race yet and was not available for comment Wednesday because his aides said he was in the middle of state budget negotiations in Lansing.

If Kuipers decides to run for the seat, Michigan political analyst Bill Ballenger said he would be the “marginal favorite— in the race. Kuipers’ state Senate district comprises a large portion of the Congressional district, and he has held office the longest out of any of the contenders.

But holding office might not be a good thing in the race, Ballenger added, given that the budget is in crisis and the Michigan economy is in the tank.

“It’s the talk of the state, and Kuipers is right in the middle of it,— Ballenger said.

If either Riemersma or Cooper can successfully run as outsider candidates, they could have a good chance of winning the primary. Riemersma, in particular, with his national profile as a football player for the University of Michigan and in the professional leagues, could mount a serious campaign if he can prove he is a good candidate.

“[Huizenga and Kuipers] are both tainted by having been, or being now, members of the Legislature, which really is kind of rock bottom in popularity at the present time,— Ballenger said.

To that extent, Huizenga could be at an advantage over Kuipers because he is no longer in office. Huizenga, who previously served as Hoekstra’s district director for five years, was term-limited out of office last year.

Huizenga sees his experience in the district, especially his time with Hoekstra, as an advantage in the race.

“For a primary here, especially, the grass-roots elements, the coffee shop talks, the inner connections that communities have, are extremely important,— he said. “I think that’s frankly one of my biggest advantages.—

On the flip side of that, Riemersma allowed that one of his biggest challenges is making political connections in the district, even though his time as a football player for the University of Michigan and two professional teams gave him national exposure.

After he left the NFL five years ago, Riemersma coached a local high school football team and worked at the Family Research Council.

“I think the biggest challenges for me in this race is making the political inroads in the 2nd district,— he said. “I can tell you from a national stage, things are going fantastic.—

And if being in office isn’t hard enough in Michigan, running a campaign ­— and more importantly, fundraising ­— is even harder.

Riemersma has already put about $100,000 into his campaign, and Cooper has said he might be willing to put in “six figures— of his own funds.

“You’re going to see that in my first reporting period, I did considerably better than the guy who has a 12-year head start on me,— Cooper said, referring to Huizenga.

Huizenga raised about $71,000 in his first quarter in the race, plus about $5,000 from his own pocket. Riemersma ended the same fundraising quarter in June by raising $154,000 — about $108,000 of which was from his own funds.

The 2nd district is split between a couple of media markets, so candidates typically reach voters on cable stations or buy time in the Grand Rapids television market. But even the Grand Rapids market only reaches the southern part district and is centered in the neighboring 3rd Congressional district.

Hoekstra won his seat in 1992, when he defeated longtime National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Guy Vander Jagt in the Republican primary despite being outspent more than 12 to 1. But much has changed in the district since 1992, and Hoekstra has not had a competitive challenge since he won office.

Geographically, Kuipers, Riemersma and Huizenga hail from the same part of the district: Ottawa County. Most of the district’s population resides in Ottawa County and the surrounding area. Cooper hails from Fruitport, just north of the population center.

National Republicans are staying out of the contest for now, and an aide at the National Republican Congressional Committee said the committee will likely not pick a favorite in the primary. The winner of the GOP primary next August is expected to be the next Member of Congress from the district, and a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee aide said national Democrats do not plan to target the district.