LANSING, Mich. — Former state Rep. Jack Hoogendyk launched his second challenge to U.S. Rep. Fred Upton on Tuesday, hoping to beat the longtime incumbent in August's Republican primary and getting assistance from a new Club for Growth ad disparaging Upton as a "liberal."
Hoogendyk told The Associated Press in a phone call shortly after announcing his candidacy in Kalamazoo that he's running for the 6th District seat in southwest Michigan because the House needs more "constitutional conservatives" dedicated to shrinking the size of the federal government. One of his goals is to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education.
"I have yet to find anyone who can show me this billion-dollar department has done anything to improve education," Hoogendyk said. "I want to see the decisions made in Lansing or right there at the school, and everyone will be better for it."
The 56-year-old resident of Kalamazoo County's Texas Township has been the executive director for the past year of the nonprofit group Citizens Alliance for Life and Liberty, which he said is dedicated to influencing state policy to "protect the God-given right to life, liberty and property." Before serving three two-year House terms starting in 2003, he spent seven years as the executive director of Alternatives of Kalamazoo, a faith-based crisis pregnancy center, and is pushing to make Michigan a right-to-work state.
Club for Growth has not endorsed Hoogendyk's campaign, but the Washington group makes a practice of targeting incumbent Republicans it views as insufficiently conservative on tax and economic issues. The ad it began running Tuesday criticizes Upton, the House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, for not supporting a Republican move to cut some of the stimulus spending pushed by Democratic President Barack Obama in 2009.
"Only a liberal would vote to keep $350 billion worth of spending in Obama's stimulus," Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said in a release. "Fred Upton stood with Obama and voted to support his big-government agenda."
It's the second ad this month the group has run labeling Upton a "liberal" congressman. Upton spokeswoman Meghan Kolassa has noted that Washington groups on both sides of the political spectrum have targeted the congressman in the past year.
"DC liberal groups say Fred is too conservative and DC conservative groups say Fred is too liberal, and all are pouring in tens of thousands of dollars for ads that twist the truth against Fred," she said.
Hoogendyk lost the 2010 GOP primary to Upton by 14 percentage points after being vastly outspent, but Club for Growth's participation could give him an advantage this year. The group used similar tactics in 2006 to help minister and former state lawmaker Tim Walberg beat U.S. Rep. Joe Schwarz in the GOP primary in southern Michigan's 7th District, pumping more than $1 million into the race to vilify Schwarz as a liberal.
Upton used to be considered a moderate Republican but has moved to the right in recent years. That change has attracted a potential Democratic opponent, Portage resident John Waltz, a Navy veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Waltz said Upton's policies "are being completely driven by the tea party."
Upton has often criticized the Obama administration and voted against its initiatives on health care and a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions. The congressman from St. Joseph has been pushing the president to approve the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline connecting Canadian oil fields with U.S. refineries and also voted with his fellow Republicans on the 12-member congressional supercommittee that tried last year to come up with ways to shrink the federal deficit.
Upton had nearly $1.5 million on hand at the end of September for his re-election bid and is expected to report he collected more in the fourth quarter. The grandson of a Whirlpool Corp. founder, Upton was listed last summer by Roll Call as the 43rd richest member of Congress, worth more than $7.9 million, giving him deep pockets to counter challenges from Hoogendyk and Club for Growth.
Follow Kathy Barks Hoffman on Twitter (at)kathybhoffman.