Republicans are turning to Michigan in the final days of the campaign in search of a major upset that would protect their majority in the U.S. Senate.
Mike Bouchard, the popular Republican sheriff of Michigan’s second-largest county, trails Democratic incumbent Sen. Debbie Stabenow. But recent polls suggest that Mr. Bouchard may be closing the gap, with two surveys indicating a single-digit difference.
“In many of our states, we’re battling a national climate that is quite difficult,” Brian Nick, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), said yesterday. “The climate in Michigan makes it an opportunity unlike any other state in the country.”
Across the country, polls show a deep anti-incumbent resentment among voters exhausted from six years of Republican dominance in Washington and tired of the war in Iraq.
In Michigan, voters are more concerned about finding jobs. The economy there, inexorably linked to the ailing auto industry, is sputtering with an unemployment rate of nearly twice the national average. And it’s Democrats who hold the governor’s mansion and both Senate seats.
That’s not to say Mr. Bouchard has an easy task ahead of him. While two polls show him trailing by seven points or less, others show the gap as much as 18 percent.
But this year, that’s enough for hope among Republicans in this state. Many view Mrs. Stabenow as vulnerable and are pleased with Mr. Bouchard’s campaign.
Republican heavy-hitters, such as former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney have been to the state to campaign for Mr. Bouchard. President Bush travels there today.
The Bouchard campaign also has been the beneficiary of a national fundraising effort. The NRSC spent $1 million on the campaign’s behalf, one of only three states where the national Republicans have gone on the offense. Also, members of the conservative group Club for Growth donated more than $250,000.
All this national attention cuts both ways, said Stabenow spokesman Brett Colburn, referring to Mr. Bush’s visit today.
“Asking George Bush to campaign for you right now is like asking the captain of the Titanic to take your boat out for a spin,” he said. “If the Republicans actually think Michigan is one of their best bets for a win in the Senate, they really are headed for an ugly Election Day.”
Despite Mr. Bush’s low poll numbers, Bouchard campaign spokesman David All said the campaign welcomes the national attention and Mr. Bush’s visit, especially because it’s slated for just hours after the president signs a bill to construct 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“As a 20-year lawman, Sheriff Bouchard is pleased to see a measure signed into law, which will help secure the border,” Mr. All said.