The race for Rep. Pete Hoekstra’s (R-Mich.) open seat is shaping up to be a competitive three-way Republican contest — and the exiting Congressman is likely to stay out of the dog fight as he prepares for a gubernatorial bid in 2010.
Former state Rep. Bill Huizenga (R) has already announced his campaign for Hoekstra’s seat, while state Sen. Wayne Kuipers (R) is set to announce a bid soon. Former pro-football player Jay Riemersma (R) is also seriously considering running for the seat.
Hoekstra’s departure from the House leaves his conservative western Michigan district up for grabs for the first time since he was elected in 1992. The district — home to the largest concentration of Dutch-Americans — has been reliable GOP territory in recent election cycles,
even as the rest of the state has voted increasingly for Democrats.
“The district is a solidly Republican district,— said Nate Bailey, a Republican operative who has worked in Michigan. “It’s really probably the core of the Republican base in Michigan at this point. But like the rest of the state, it’s seeing its numbers erode over time.—
Bailey said Huizenga is probably the “biggest voice that’s out there— so far in the race, but another Michigan Republican operative sees the contest as wide open.
“As it stands now, this race is a true tossup and three-way race,— the operative said. “Riemersma could campaign as an outsider with Christian conservative values, which [would] sell on that side of the state, and do quite well.—
Huizenga served as Hoekstra’s public policy director for six years before running for the Michigan House, where he was term-limited out of office last year. The former aide said he keeps in touch regularly with the Congressman, even timing his announcement within 24 hours of Hoekstra saying that he would retire from the House last December.
“We talk probably three to five times per week,— Huizenga said.
Huizenga said Hoekstra was aware of his plans to run for his seat, although the Congressman will likely not endorse anyone in the race. A former fundraiser for Michigan Republicans, Huizenga raised $19,000 in the first quarter of this year.
Kuipers, meanwhile, has opened an exploratory committee and said an announcement would be coming in the next four to six weeks. A state lawmaker since 1998, Kuipers has served in both chambers of the state Legislature and will be term-limited out of office in 2010.
“We have an exploratory committee, using that to travel around the district to determine the level of interest,— Kuipers said. “I’ve been doing that for the past three or four months.—
Kuipers said he supported Hoekstra in his first campaign for the seat and that the Congressman is well aware of his ambitions.
“I think he was supportive of the idea,— Kuipers said. “I don’t think that [with] where he’s at and what he’s going to do, it’s going to provide any benefit to him to get involved in the race one way or another.—
Riemersma also confirmed that he had spoken with Hoekstra about running for the seat, although the former Buffalo Bill and Pittsburgh Steeler cautioned that he has yet to make a decision about running for the seat.
Hoekstra “asked me to consider taking a good, hard look at it,— Riemersma said. “After talking with him and talking with people in the district, we are in the very initial process of trying to figure out if I’m a viable candidate.—
Since leaving the Steelers in 2004 after an injury, Riemersma took a political job with the socially conservative Family Research Council. But as a former professional athlete, Riemersma would be in a position to at least partially self-fund a campaign.
The district has traditionally been one of the most conservative in the state, electing Hoekstra with no less than 62 percent of the vote for his nine terms in Congress. Nonetheless, the district has followed statewide trends and voted increasingly for Democrats in recent cycles.
President Barack Obama earned 48 percent in the district, after President George W. Bush won with 60 percent just four years earlier.
Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer said he was having discussions with several possible candidates for Hoekstra’s seat but declined to divulge any names. There are three Democratic state Representatives in the district who could be potential candidates.
“I think under the right circumstances it could be won,— Brewer said. “The district has trended more and more our way in recent cycles.—
But so far, Republicans are confident that they can keep the seat. A spokeswoman for the Michigan Republican Party, Jennifer Hoff, said any of the three GOP candidates could win the general election.
“We have a rich field of candidates,— Hoff said.