- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 4, 2005

LANSING, Mich. — The Rev. Keith Butler says he is certain he can unseat Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Michigan Democrat, and he looks to do it with a strong backing from national Republicans and a platform that includes allowing politics into the pulpit.

The 49-year-old former Detroit City Council member, who heads the 21,000-member Word of Faith International Christian Center Church in suburban Southfield, has already raised more than $830,000 for the 2006 campaign.

Former Reps. J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma and Jack Kemp of New York will serve as his national fundraising coordinators, two Republican heavyweights who speak to the star power that Mr. Butler is commanding.

“Clearly, we are going to start reaching out all over the country for money now,” he says, calling Mr. Kemp, “one of my absolute heroes.”

Mr. Butler has been outspoken in his criticism of Supreme Court rulings that prohibit churches from engaging in partisan politics. “Why should people who happen to be Christians be booted out of the political process?”

Mr. Butler is in fundraising mode right now, looking at an upcoming soiree thrown by Domino’s Pizza magnate Tom Monaghan, who has personally donated the $2,000 maximum to the Butler campaign.

Ms. Stabenow, 55, is backed by a number of liberal interests, including the pro-choice Emily’s List, and as a member of the House she received a 100 percent rating from NARAL for her pro-choice voting record. The Democrat, who narrowly defeated Republican Sen. Spencer Abraham in 2000, spends much of her time tending to her constituents, regularly holding community meetings in Michigan.

In Mr. Butler, though, “for the first time since J.C. Watts, the Republican Party could present an effective African-American lawmaker,” says Tony Spearman-Leach, who was director of the southeast Michigan region for Mr. Abraham’s campaign in 2000. “Senator [Barack] Obama is great, but Keith Butler could be truly tremendous.”

Mr. Butler, a married father of three, says he became a Republican in 1980 after carefully reviewing the platform of both parties “and finding out that I was, to my surprise, a Republican.”

He said he was surprised when this summer RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman apologized at the NAACP convention for the past actions of the Republican Party with regard to blacks.

“I sent a note to him, and I don’t know if he ever got it, saying that it was the Democrats who should be apologizing,” says Mr. Butler, an NAACP member. “It was Democrats who voted against so many of the civil rights issues and for Jim Crow laws.”

Once the 2006 Michigan primary is over, the Butler campaign will get strong backing from the national Republican Party, says Alvin Williams, who heads Black America’s Political Action Committee (BAMPAC).

“He can expect full backing from the party. They will get behind him enthusiastically,” Mr. Williams said. “They can’t do much until the primary is over, but once that is cleared … Butler will be well-covered.”

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