17 May 2010

Gubernatorial Candidates Crank up the Attack Ads

Detroit Free Press

The race to replace Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, officially under way at today’s 4 p.m. filing deadline, looks like it will be a shooting war from here on out.

Republican Attorney General Mike Cox marked the deadline by launching a televised attack ad on U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, accusing him of profligate spending during his years in Congress. Supporting fire came from a national conservative business association.

Hoekstra was ready to go on the air to defend himself, but held off today to make some last minutes changes in ad copy, a spokesman said. Meanwhile, another national conservative group, the Family Research Council, announced its endorsement of Hoekstra and the launch of a radio ad campaign on his behalf.

Although Cox and Hoekstra were tangling at the starting gate, the rough stuff is likely to spread.

Tom Shields, a Lansing-based political consultant with Republican roots, said he expects Cox to move on to a third Republican in the race, Ann Arbor businessman Rick Snyder, in fairly short order.

Cox, Hoekstra and Snyder, the only candidate with a significant television advertising campaign before today,
have led almost all of the public polls on the Republican side of the primary. Also running are Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard and state Sen. Tom George of Kalamazoo.

On the less-populated Democratic side, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero and House Speaker Andy Dillon have limited their epithet hurling to the non-broadcast variety.

Cox’s opening ad, airing everywhere in Michigan except the Detroit television market, takes Hoekstra to task for voting to support pork barrel projects, including Alaska’s infamous “Bridge to Nowhere.” The supporting ad from a group called Americans for Job Security, airing only in Grand Rapids, also mentions the bridge.

A Hoekstra campaign spokesman said the attacks are motivated more by the congressman’s standing in the polls (he’s ahead in most) than by his record on spending.

“Pete’s a solid conservative and the people of west Michigan know that,” said spokesman John Truscott, a message he said will be reflected in a Hoekstra ad that could begin as early as Wednesday.

Shields said a brutal primary runs the risk of leaving Republicans with a tattered nominee for the general election in a
year in which the party should be well-positioned to retake the governor’s office.

But if the attacks are factual and limited to issues that voters care about, there’s no reason to avoid them now in hopes Democrats and their allies will refrain, Shields said.

Cox campaign manager Stu Sandler said Tuesday the new Cox ad, which also touts the attorney general’s record and
calls him “tough enough to lead,” is “not an attack ad.”

“People across the country are fed up with the spending,” he said. “People don’t know Hoekstra’s record.”

Like almost every legislator who has cast thousands of votes over a period of years, Hoekstra’s record on spending and just about everything else is mixed.

He has earned solidly conservative ratings from national conservative groups, including those who rank taxes and spending as their highest priorities. But he also has supported spending that, at least in hindsight, was controversial. Like the $400-million Alaskan bridge that would connect the mainland to an island populated by 50 residents.

In “RePork Cards” issued by the anti-spending Club for Growth, Hoekstra scored a 97% for his voting record in 2009, voting against pork projects almost every time.

But in 2007, on 50 pork project votes rated by the group, Hoekstra’s 20% mark was easily the lowest grade among Michigan’s Republican congressional delegation that year. U.S. Rep. Fred Upton of Kalamazoo was next at 41%, and three members of the delegation were over 80%.

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