New Frontrunner in Michigan
for the GOP, that is. According to a Strategic Vision poll released today, Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard is within 14 points of Sen. Debbie Stabenow. His primary opponents, Keith Butler and Jerry Zandstra, who have been campaigning for the better party of a year, trail Stabenow by 19 and 25 points respectively. Perhaps most encouraging, though, is the fact that Bouchard holds Stabenow to 45 points.
The poll gives additional causes for optimism. Stabenow's net approval rating is just +8 and 51% of Michiganders approve of the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. On the flip side, the President's net approval rating is an abysmal -28%, suggesting that, outside of fundraising, he will be a liability for the eventual nominee.
Michigan is not exactly ripe for the picking, but there is an opportunity. A spirited Republican primary between two conservatives could attract some free media and battle-test the eventual nominee. Unfortunately, though, there are three Republican candidates, and three is a crowd. Republicans would do well to squeeze the weakest candidate, Jerry Zandstra out of the race, without dividing the Party. This could be done fairly easily if the GOP establishment and grassroots back either Butler or Bouchard rather than remaining neutral. Once the field narrows to two, both must fire away at Debbie Stabenow, making the battle for the nomination a fight over who could launch the most effective attacks.
Other states, such as Rhode Island, Minnesota, and Ohio, remain more competitive, but Bouchard's standing after missing out on months of campaigning suggest that Michigan is the sleeper race of the 2006 cycle.