Stabenow defeats Hoekstra in U.S. Senate race

9:08 AM, Nov 7, 2012   |    comments
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  • Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow claimed another term Tuesday, with a victory speech in Detroit.
  • Republican Pete Hoekstra gives his concession speech at Peppinos in downtown Grand Rapids.

LANSING, Mich. (DETROIT FREE PRESS)-- Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan capitalized on her role in the auto industry rescue and her position as chairwoman of the agricultural committee to cruise to a third term, defeating former Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra today.

Stabenow led Hoekstra, 54%- 42%, according to an Election Day phone poll of 800 voters conducted by EPIC-MRA of Lansing for the Detroit Free Press/WXYZ-TV (Channel 7). Those in the poll voted today or by absentee ballot.

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

A sampling of election returns in key precincts in Michigan showed Stabenow with an even larger lead.

Stabenow has touted the benefits of her incumbency - she is the chairwoman of the Senate Agricultural Committee, where she helped craft a bipartisan Farm Bill that passed the Senate, but stalled in the House. The role earned her the coveted endorsement from the traditionally Republican Farm Bureau.

She also has portrayed herself as cheerleader-in-chief for the domestic auto industry. She was a vocal supporter of the federal bailout for the auto industry and was one of the authors of the popular "Cash for Clunkers" program, which allowed car owners to get rid of their gas guzzlers in exchange for a voucher worth up to $4,500 to pay for more fuel-efficient cars.

Her support of Michigan agriculture, one of the state's top industries, is what earned Stabenow the vote of John Weatherly, 65, a Commerce Township retiree.

"I came to know a little bit of her history and the importance of her being head of the Agriculture Committee. Her seniority matters," said Weatherly, adding that a newcomer wouldn't have the advantages of seniority.

Hoekstra was a furniture manufacturer executive before beating popular and long-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Guy Vander Jagt in 1992. He won re-election seven times before giving up his seat to run for governor in 2010, finishing second to Ann Arbor businessman Rick Snyder.

Bill DeKoff, 56, of Portage, and a printing company owner, said he supported Hoekstra.

"I'm trying to break the stranglehold on the Senate the Democrats have," said DeKoff, referring to the Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate.

As much as Stabenow was able to tout her own record, she also was helped by a lackluster opponent.

In a bruising primary fight against businessman Clark Durant, Hoekstra took controversial positions, such as supporting drilling for oil in the Great Lakes; saying state Legislatures should appoint U.S. senators instead of voters electing them; and dismissing the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which calls for equal pay for equal work for both men and women, as a nuisance.

Hoekstra also was forced to spend time and resources raising money. And he focused on the absence of debates with his opponent and Middle East issues, when voters were more concerned about the economy and jobs.

Stabenow raised piles more money than Hoekstra - $14 million compared with $5.3 million - and was able to blanket the airwaves with commercials for the last six weeks.

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