WASHINGTON-For 17 years, Right to Life of Michigan endorsed Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., as he ran for office and won reelection. But when he decided to pursue the Republican nomination for governor, the group endorsed a challenger it backed in the two last elections: Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox. The primary, with a field of five Republicans, takes place Tuesday.
Cox was initially the GOP favorite, though he and Hoekstra now closely trail venture capitalist and embryonic stem cell research supporter Rick Snyder, according to a poll by EPIC/MRA.
Members of Right to Life of Michigan have "shown themselves to be political opportunists," Hoekstra told me. "They've severely damaged their organization."
Hoekstra has a longer record on life issues than Cox, including a 100 percent lifetime voting record on pro-life issues according to the National Right to Life Committee. But Cox has gained notoriety for defending Michigan's ban on partial-birth abortion. He also cites the lawsuit he filed with other state attorneys general against the federal healthcare bill as a sign of his pro-life commitment, but that suit simply questions the constitutionality of the bill. Cox's campaign also has attacked Hoekstra for missing votes that "could have derailed 'Obamacare' and taxpayer-funded abortions" though Hoekstra voted against final passage of the healthcare bill.
In running for governor, Hoekstra decided to not seek reelection to Congress, giving up his top seat on the House Intelligence Committee.
Right to Life of Michigan's PAC director Larry Galmish said the endorsement decision was "hard," but the group had to back someone because the leading candidate, Snyder, has a pro-abortion record. Galmish added that he doesn't question Hoekstra's pro-life credentials.
"The board tried to select the candidate that had the strongest campaign . . . that could include a number of things," Galmish said. Cox, who frequently been in the headlines across the state during his tenure as attorney general, went into the primary race with better name recognition.
"[Right to Life of Michigan] said, 'We think Mike Cox is the strongest candidate to win a general election. . . . They said, 'Pete can't raise money,'" Hoekstra said. "They made a political calculation. They chose and they chose poorly."
The Cox campaign did not immediately return a request for comment.
Despite Michigan's economic woes, abortion has been a central topic in both the Republican and Democratic primary fights. On the Democratic side, Lansing Mayor Virgil Bernero has attacked his opponent, Michigan House Speaker Andy Dillon, for being "anti-abortion." Groups like Planned Parenthood have dumped money to discredit Dillon for being pro-life. Dillon opposes abortion but declined to overturn the state amendment allowing embryonic stem cell research because he described it as "settled law."
In addition to Michigan, primaries will take place Tuesday in Missouri and Kansas.