LANSING, Mich. — Former U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, a conservative who helped found the found the House Tea Party Caucus, plans to run for the Senate seat from Michigan held by Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, The Associated Press has learned.
Two Republicans with knowledge of his decision say the Holland Republican who spent 18 years in Congress has changed his mind about staying out of the race and plans an announcement soon. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision had not been made public.
Three Republican candidates already are in the Senate race and several more are considering joining. None is considered a strong opponent to Stabenow, the Senate Agricultural Committee chairwoman and a scrappy campaigner. She already has $4 million on hand for her run for a third six-year term.
Money could be an issue for Hoekstra, who had to conserve funds last year during the five-way contest for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. Hoekstra came in second to Rick Snyder, who became governor, in part because Hoekstra's opponents aired ads he could barely afford to respond to during the summer primary season.
Hoekstra's decision is a reversal from just a few months ago, when he publicly declined to enter the race. National Republicans had been growing frustrated that they couldn't recruit a candidate to take on Stabenow — whom they consider vulnerable in 2012 because of the sluggish economy — and were pleasantly surprised that Hoekstra reconsidered a bid.
Stabenow won re-election in 2006 with 57 percent of the vote. But a statewide poll released Tuesday by Lansing-based EPIC-MRA showed Stabenow with a 51 percent negative job approval rating, with only 38 percent giving her a positive rating and 11 percent undecided. The poll of 600 likely voters also showed 47 percent had a favorable opinion of the Lansing Democrat, while 35 percent had an unfavorable opinion and 17 percent were undecided. It's usually a sign of potential vulnerability for a candidate to be below 50 percent favorability.
The July 9-11 poll had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Hoekstra, 57, finished his 18th year in Congress early in 2011 and two months later became a senior adviser at Dickstein Shapiro LLP, a law and lobbying firm in Washington, D.C.
The Democratic Senatorial Committee jabbed at that record Tuesday, referring to Hoekstra as "Mr. Revolving Door . . . a congressman turned Washington lobbyist who has stood up for taxpayer-funded bonuses for bailed-out CEOs, tax giveaways for oil companies and Republican efforts to privatize Medicare."
Chimed in Michigan Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer: "Hoekstra can change his mind on whether he wants to be Michigan's Senator, but he can't change his record of voting against Michigan families."
By waiting until at least late July to enter the race, Hoekstra has given Stabenow a head start in fundraising. He already had expressed reservations about the expense of running for the Senate, saying it would require a significant amount of fundraising to win the seat. One potential GOP Senate candidate, Clark Durant, recently said he expected it to be a $15 million race.
First elected to Congress in 1992, Hoekstra was born in the Netherlands and moved to the United States when he was 3 years old. He spent much of his time in Congress focused on intelligence issues, becoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee in 2004, a post that gave him oversight of the CIA and exposure to the country's top secrets.
He voted against President George W. Bush's landmark education law, No Child Left Behind, because he said it put public schools under Washington's thumb, but took criticism from tea party groups for supporting the bailout of the financial industry.
Hoekstra opposes abortion rights and gay marriage and is a fan of home schooling and a constitutional amendment that says parents have a "fundamental right" to raise their children without government interference. He joined Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann — now a GOP presidential candidate — in founding the House Tea Party Caucus last year.
His views were in line with his deeply conservative congressional district abutting Lake Michigan. But he'll have to broaden his appeal to less socially conservative Republicans and independents if he wants to beat Stabenow, who upset GOP Sen. Spencer Abraham in 2000. Stabenow won re-election in 2006 over Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard.
Republicans already in the race are Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner John McCullough, former Kent County Probate Judge Randy Hekman and Roscommon businessman Peter Konetchy. None had more than $30,000 on hand in campaign finance reports filed Friday.