Butler gains momentum, while Brandon keeps quiet

A growing chorus of Republicans, including former vice-presidential nominee Jack Kemp and Rep. J.C. Watts, is coalescing around Keith Butler (R), a pastor and former Detroit city councilman hoping to beat Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) next year. The Butler campaign announced Monday that Kemp and Watts would serve as its national finance chairmen. Earlier this month, the campaign reported that it had raised $800,000 this year, surprising many Michigan Republicans.
A growing chorus of Republicans, including former vice-presidential nominee Jack Kemp and Rep. J.C. Watts, is coalescing around Keith Butler (R), a pastor and former Detroit city councilman hoping to beat Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) next year.

The Butler campaign announced Monday that Kemp and Watts would serve as its national finance chairmen. Earlier this month, the campaign reported that it had raised $800,000 this year, surprising many Michigan Republicans.
patrick g. ryan
Ex-Detroit City Councilman Keith Butler (R) hopes to beat Sen. Debbie Stabenow, above.


And yesterday, Republicans on Capitol Hill, many of whom have been waiting for Domino’s Pizza CEO David Brandon to get into the race, suggested that they are leaning toward Butler.

“Keith has been using his time very effectively to get known in the district,” Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) said, referring to his 2nd District, one of the state’s largest caches of Republican voters. “He’s put together a pretty credible campaign.”

Hoekstra, who in an interview with The Hill repeatedly referred to Butler as “Keith” and called Brandon by his last name, said he has not endorsed anyone yet but could do so before the state Republicans’ meeting in late September on Mackinac Island.

“I’ve had a few discussions, a number of different discussions, with Keith,” Hoekstra said. “I’ve not talked to Brandon, so, you know, I think people believe if he gets in he would be a credible candidate.”

Rep. Joseph Knollenberg (R-Mich.), like Hoekstra, praised Butler for his “hard work,” which has included canvassing Republican precincts, meeting conservative leaders and accumulating a corps of hundreds of volunteers.

Knollenberg questioned whether Brandon would be wise to enter the race, given the high cost — especially to the head of a major corporation — of leaving the private sector.

“Do you want to walk away from that when you’re in the first chapter of your career as a CEO of a large company?” Knollenberg asked. “He could run four years from now. He’s still a relatively young individual.”

Brandon did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Other House Republicans from Michigan chose not to comment on the Senate primary.

Butler, in an interview with The Hill, portrayed himself as a “pro-growth Republican” in the mold of President Reagan and Kemp, and a supporter of Second Amendment gun rights and a strong national defense. He opposes abortion rights. The Republican candidate backed Kemp, a former New York congressman, when he ran for president in 1988.

Butler added that, as the pastor of a Detroit church with a congregation of some 21,000 members, he is “a real black leader” who would cut into one of Stabenow’s key constituencies, should he win the GOP nomination.

“I really am the embodiment of a compassionate conservative,” Butler said, noting that he has helped feed and clothe the poor and opened churches across the United States, on St. Thomas and in London.

The pastor served on the City Council from 1989 to 1993, winning his at-large seat in a citywide election.

Butler shrugged off talk that a black man without much personal wealth couldn’t win a Republican primary and ultimately beat a sitting senator with a sizable war chest. “I think people are reassessing [the Senate field],” Butler said.

He was in Washington yesterday meeting officials on Capitol Hill and at the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

He is also aided by conservative activist Jane Abraham’s decision last week not to seek the GOP nomination, Michigan Republicans said. Abraham’s supporters would naturally migrate to the Butler column, these observers say.

Still, there is widespread concern among Republicans that Butler does not have the resources in terms of money and campaign organization to defeat Stabenow, who won her first term, in 2000, by beating Sen. Spencer Abraham, Jane Abraham’s husband.

Stabenow raised more than $1.4 million in the second quarter of the year. She now has $4 million in the bank. Also, as a former vice chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Stabenow has a nationwide network of donors. Last week, she attended a fundraiser in Martha’s Vineyard that attracted several high-end donors.