NRSC Orders a Pizza (CEO)
National Republicans are hoping for a delivery from Domino’s Pizza; and they’re willing to wait more than 30 minutes to get it.
They have been courting Domino’s Chief Executive Officer David Brandon to enter the Senate race in Michigan, but it remains to be seen if he will fill their order.
Republicans have been searching for a top-tier challenger to freshman Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) since the beginning of the year.
Their first choice, Rep. Candice Miller (a former Michigan secretary of state), took a pass, as did her colleague, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.).
No statewide officeholder has come forward either, though current Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land has not totally ruled out a bid.
For a while, Republicans were watching Dick DeVos, son of Amway Corp. co-founder Rich DeVos, but he opted for the governor’s race. And there was the extremely brief candidacy of Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard, followed by a short-lived courting of Peter Cummings, a wealthy real estate developer from a prominent Republican family.
Now the hungry GOP is craving Brandon.
“We think he would be a great candidate,” said Brian Nick, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
That is not to say that Republicans lack a candidate.
The Rev. Keith Butler, a former Detroit city councilman, has been raising money, traveling the state and racking up endorsements from local party pooh-bahs and Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox.
He is not alone in the race either.
Also seeking the GOP nod are: Bart Baron, a frequent candidate who used to be a Democrat; Nasser Beydoun, an Arab-American activist; and Jerry Zandstra, a minister and college professor.
Jane Abraham, a former state party official and wife of former Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.), is still mulling an effort to avenge her husband’s 2000 loss to Stabenow.
Brandon has traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with NRSC officials and has sat down with the state chairman several times, but he has remained mum about his intentions and did not return a call seeking comment for this story.
“In my opinion he’s not getting in the race and he never was,” said one knowledgeable Republican operative who did not want to be named. “He’s not calling anyone, he’s not showing up at anything. I think it’s the wishful thinking of people.”
Rumor had it that Brandon, who serves on the University of Michigan Board of Regents, was going to announce his candidacy a few weeks ago, in conjunction with DeVos’ unveiling of his gubernatorial bid, but that never came to pass, the source added.
John Truscott, a Republican consultant and former communications director to then- Michigan Gov. John Engler (R), said he hears Brandon is seriously considering Republicans’ entreaties.
“I hear a lot of rumblings that he’s very seriously looking at it but in the end, I don’t know if he’ll decide to jump,” Truscott said. “He’d be a very attractive candidate. He has a lot of the basic skills — good speaker, attractive, tall and athletic. He’s a good package.”
Truscott said Brandon also has pitched in on local Republican efforts, stuffing envelopes and doing other “grunt” work. “He’s gotten his hands dirty,” Truscott said. But in the end it will come down to if he decides now is the right time, he added.
Another Michigan Republican familiar with the GOP’s wooing of Brandon said the former University of Michigan football player has some basic questions he needs to answer.
“He has some soul searching to do,” the source said. “Does he want to bring his family in [to politics]? Does he walk away from his success at Domino’s?”
Even with such weighty concerns, Brandon “is looking more seriously at getting in now more than ever,” the source added.
Nate Bailey, spokesman for the Michigan Republican Party, said Brandon “continues to very closely look at entering the race for U.S. Senate.”
Many local Republicans think that if Brandon decides to go for it, he will hold off making his announcement until late September, when the state party holds its biennial leadership conference on Mackinac Island.
Truscott said that Brandon can afford to wait that long.
“Dave would have some catching up to do but you get the NRSC behind you — that helps quite a bit,” he said.
Nick said the NRSC will stay out of the primary.
“We’ll go and look for candidates who have the best chance of winning; it’s premature right now [to say] who that candidate is, but we’re not going to get involved in the primary,” he said.
At a time when the Republican National Committee is reaching out to black candidates and voters, the fact that the NRSC is looking at all irks some Republicans.
“Butler is working his butt off — he’s getting county chairs; I think we should just grow up and support this guy,” the Republican operative said.
“He’s a Jack Kemp Republican, we ought to all just get behind him and take a stand for him,” the source added. “We could make history here. We should just go for it.”
Michigan has never elected a black Senator or governor.
Nick said the NRSC’s interest in other candidates is not a knock on Butler’s candidacy.
“Butler is certainly a great candidate. As in a lot of states, there are a handful of people who have expressed interest and we talk to them all,” he said. “I can’t predict how the race would play out, but our job is to find the best candidates.”