DETROIT (AP) - Former U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra won Michigan's Republican nomination for U.S. Senate on Tuesday, beating back a challenge from two candidates who questioned his record as a conservative.
Hoekstra's victory over charter school foundation executive Clark Durant and former Kent County Judge Randy Hekman sets up a November matchup with two-term Democratic incumbent Debbie Stabenow.
Durant had mounted a furious challenge in the final weeks of the campaign, launching ads attacking Hoekstra's record during his 18 years in the House and labeling him and Stabenow "Washington insiders." An independent group called Prosperity for Michigan spent up to $500,000 on an anti-Hoekstra ad campaign to help Durant.
Above, election official Janet Stasewich helps voter Lori Rose prepare her ballot for the voting machine at Webster Elementary School in Escanaba Tuesday evening. Election official Judy Johnson is at work in the background. (Daily Press photo by Holly Richer)
"I think Pete will do a very good job," Durant said at a Detroit-area campaign night get-together, adding that he expected Hoekstra will "be our next United States senator."
Durant, the self-proclaimed "rebel with a cause," was hoping he'd get the same kind of 11th-hour momentum that helped push tea party-backed candidates Ted Cruz of Texas and Richard Mourdock of Indiana past better known foes in their GOP Senate primaries.
But it didn't materialize.
Hoekstra tapped into the strong name recognition and grass-roots organization he built during his unsuccessful 2010 run for governor. And he fought back against the not-conservative-enough charge by boasting of a congressional resume that included high marks from the American Conservative Union, vocal support for less government intrusion and his role in co-founding the House Tea Party Caucus with Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.
Hoekstra did some counter-punching, too, questioning Durant over the roughly $500,000 he was paid annually by the foundations that support Cornerstones Schools, a system of independent, nonprofit schools he helped found in Detroit. Durant said the foundations set his salary.
"We will take what we have learned and apply it to the next 13 weeks," Hoekstra told cheering supporters at a rally Tuesday night in the Detroit suburb of Pontiac.
Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Mark Brewer said Hoekstra's "out-of-the-mainstream ideology" may have worked with Republican voters, but it won't fly in November. "He has a lot of explaining to do to the general electorate come the fall," Brewer told The Associated Press.
Still, Brewer said he considered Hoekstra to be "a serious candidate."
"This is a competitive, two-party state. You can never take any election for granted, and we certainly will not," he said.
First elected to Congress in 1992, Hoekstra was born in the Netherlands and moved to the U.S. when he was 3. He currently lives in the West Michigan city of Holland.