Politics

Clark Durant picks up steam ahead of Michigan GOP Senate primary

Clark Durant picks up steam ahead of Michigan GOP Senate primary

With little time to go before Michigan’s Republican U.S. Senate primary Tuesday, signs are mounting that Clark Durant — former Reagan administration official and lifelong movement conservative — may overtake the longtime front-runner in the polls, former Rep. Pete Hoekstra.

Should Durant win the primary to oppose Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow will be “Step Four” in a string of pitched battles in GOP Senate contests won by tea party-backed conservatives against establishment candidates. In Indiana, State Treasurer Richard Mourdock defeated longtime Sen. Dick Lugar for renomination and in Nebraska, State Sen. Deb Fischer emerged atop two better-known officials. Most recently, Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz rolled up 57 percent of the vote to win the Senate nod over establishment-backed Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst.

Like Cruz, Michigan’s Durant has trailed in polls throughout the race, but is coming on very strong in the finish.

A week ago, Hoekstra appeared coasting toward the nomination. At the time, the EPIC-MRA poll showed the former nine-term House Member and second-place finisher in the 2010 gubernatorial primary leading Durant among likely primary voters statewide by a margin of 51 to 27 percent. The remaining contender, retired jurist Randy Hekman, trailed at 4 percent.

A just-completed poll for Channel 2 in Detroit by the Foster McCollum White firm of Troy, Mich. showed Hoekstra with a 39.76 to 23.5 percent lead over Durant, with 15.31 percent selecting another candidate and 24.04 percent undecided.

“With candidate and leading Tea Party advocate Gary Glenn throwing his support to Durant and late spendingby a pro Durant Super PAC,” concluded FMW, “this race should go down to the wire.” In addition, Durant’s support from 41 tea party groups throughout the state has provided legions of eager volunteers to turn out likely voters — critical in what is likely to be a very low turnout in Michigan’s grueling August heat. Days ago, the Tea Party Express roared into the Water Wonderland for a mass rally on Durant’s behalf.

Hoekstra still strong

Hoekstra sports a 91.35 percent rating from the American Conservative Union, and has been endorsed by well-known conservatives as Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.). However, Durant’s hard-charging campaign points out things in the former congressman’s record that are upsetting to many GOP primary voters.

“He voted for the Wall Street bailouts in (September) ’08 — something I would not have done,” Durant told Human Events between campaign stops on Friday, “and he clearly made a deal with (Teamsters Union President Jimmy) Hoffa to slow down all the major free trade agreements — CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Accord), for example — and not even support the ‘fast track’ procedure.” Although Durant himself rarely mentions it, other supporters point out that after leaving Congress, Hoekstra worked as a lobbyist in Washington — not exactly a complimentary description of someone to “tea partiers.”

Grosse Pointe (Mich.) lawyer Durant, however, is not “of the tea party” but someone who truly grew up in the postwar conservative movement. The son of the late conservative leader Dick Durant — who fought the state GOP’s moderate establishment in the 1950s and ‘60s — Clark Durant knew William F. Buckley, Jr., Barry Goldwater, and other conservative icons since childhood. As head of the Legal Services Corporation under Ronald Reagan, he repeatedly fought to scale down the size and excesses of the legal-aid colossus. Numerous contemporary conservative leaders have weighed in for Durant in the 2012 primary, among them Republican Sens. Mike Lee (Utah), Tom Coburn (Okla.), and Rand Paul (Ky.), and former presidential candidate Steve Forbes, who also came to Michigan to speak on Durant’s behalf.

Working in Hoekstra’s favor is that the bulk of Republican votes in primaries historically come from his home turf in Western Michigan and that, for more than a half-century, GOP establishment-backed candidates have always won the Senate primaries over insurgents. In 1970, Lenore Romney (Mitt’s mother) edged out conservative State Sen. Bob Huber for the Senate nod and in 1990, Durant himself was beaten for nomination by then-Rep. (now State Attorney General) Bill Schuette. But as Ted Cruz, Richard Mourdock, and Deb Fischer have demonstrated, 2012 is a year when things that “always happened before” didn’t.

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