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Commentary: Land for Senate?

Ever since U.S. Senator Carl Levin announced three months ago that he wouldn't seek another term next year, most Michigan Republicans have been waiting for Godot.

Except in this case, Godot is Brighton area Congressmen Mike Rogers, who most GOP leaders felt would be their strongest candidate. Rogers has been unable or unwilling to decide, however, and it seems increasingly unlikely that he will run.

He has a safe seat in Congress and a powerful and prestigious position as chair of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Giving all that up for a risky run for a seat in a state where Democrats usually win U.S. Senate contests might not seem that appealing. But I’ve never felt Rogers was the Republicans' strongest potential candidate. I think their best chance to win is the woman who announced her candidacy this week, Terri Lynn Land.

Land, who turns 55 this month, is better known to voters statewide; she was twice elected secretary of state by impressive margins in what were mostly Democratic years. 

Seven years ago, she ran almost half a million votes ahead of her party's candidates for governor and senator. She also is an effective fundraiser, starting at home; her father and grandfather built a very successful development business starting with trailer parks and apartments in the Grand Rapids area back in the 1950's.

What may be her most appealing quality, however, is that she is perceived as likeable, sensible and practical. While she holds generally conservative positions, she comes across as anything but strident. She always has been someone you can imagine running into at the shopping mall or the grocery store.

When she was secretary of state, she ran what was largely perceived as a non-ideological operation. She focused mainly on technical improvements to new voting systems, shortening waiting times at secretary of state branch offices, and streamlining the process of getting and renewing drivers' licenses.

What may be unusual about her is that unlike many Republicans of her generation, she was inspired to get into politics not by Ronald Reagan, but by Gerald Ford, who many see as the last moderate Republican.

Yet Land managed to cut across ideological lines and get significant Tea Party support to win election to the Republican National Committee last year. It is still far from certain that she'll be the nominee. Rogers or another big name could still get in the race.

Justin Amash, the young congressman from the same part of the state as Land, is sounding very much like a candidate. If he runs, he is likely to sew up virtually all the Tea Party support.

Yet the odds are that Land would be far more electable. Republicans have a terrible record in U.S. Senate elections in Michigan; they've lost twelve of the last thirteen contests.

Democrats have already united around Congressman Gary Peters as their candidate, a seasoned campaigner who is certain to be well-funded. Nobody yet knows how strong Land will prove to be on major national and international issues.

In fact, in some cases, we have no idea what her positions are. Yet, she has proven to be a deceptively powerful vote getter. And that's something Michigan Republicans desperately need.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Jack Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, the University of Michigan.

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