LANSING, Mich. — Former U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, a conservative who helped found the House Tea Party Caucus, announced Wednesday that he will set up a campaign committee to run for the U.S. Senate seat from Michigan held by Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow.
The Holland Republican said in a statement that he has decided "after a good deal of reflection" that he can't sit on the sidelines while Democrats try to raise taxes to balance the federal budget. He said he plans to file the appropriate paperwork to begin campaigning and raising money but will delay officially announcing he's in the race until "the months ahead."
"Over the last couple of years, the spending in Washington has spun out of control. Michigan needs a U.S. senator who will cut spending without raising taxes and help create jobs," Hoekstra said in the release.
He spent 18 years in Congress after a career at furniture maker Herman Miller Inc. and considered a Senate bid after stepping down from the House early this year. He chose instead to become a senior adviser at Dickstein Shapiro LLP, a law and lobbying firm in Washington, D.C., and announced in April he wouldn't run.
National Republicans had been growing frustrated that they couldn't recruit a strong candidate to take on Stabenow — whom they consider vulnerable in 2012 because of the sluggish economy — and were pleasantly surprised when Hoekstra reconsidered.
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 that he could barely afford to respond to during the summer primary season.
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.
The Democratic Senatorial Committee took jabs at Hoekstra's record Tuesday, referring to the 57-year-old 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."
Michigan Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer also chimed in, saying, "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 so long to enter the race, Hoekstra has given 61-year-old 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 tea party groups criticized him for supporting the bailout of the financial industry.
Hoekstra opposes abortion and gay marriage rights, 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 and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who is 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 and easily beat Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard in 2006.
Stabenow lost her own bid for governor in the 1994 Democratic primary but has never lost to a Republican during her 16 years in the Michigan Legislature, four years in the U.S. House and 12 years in the U.S. Senate.
The other Republicans seeking to unseat Stabenow are Oakland County Water Resources Commissioner John McCullough, former Kent County Probate Judge Randy Hekman and Roscommon businessman Peter Konetchy. None of the three had more than $30,000 on hand, according to campaign finance reports filed Friday.