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Michael Barone: Erik Prince should run for senator — in Michigan

Michael Barone: Erik Prince should run for senator — in Michigan

Former White House aide and former and current head of Breitbart News Steve Bannon has made it no secret that he is trying to defeat Republican senators whom he sees as supporters of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. But the way Bannon is going about it suggests that he has something less than perfect political pitch.

One of his projects, according to Breitbart News and the New York Times, is persuading Erik Prince to run in the Republican primary against incumbent Sen. John Barrasso in Wyoming. Prince, the founder of the now defunct military contracting firm Blackwater, is a controversial figure who will, if he runs, no doubt be demonized by the media as he has been — often unfairly, in my view — in the past. Among his assets are significant military and foreign policy experience, starting with his service as a Navy SEAL, and the ability to self-finance (the family-owned auto parts company was sold for $1.35 billion in the 1990s). He is the younger brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

But the major problem with his candidacy is his (or Bannon’s) running in Wyoming against Barrasso. Barrasso has a solidly conservative voting record and years of experience campaigning, starting with his unsuccessful campaign for the Republican Senate nomination in 1996 (he lost to his current colleague, Mike Enzi, 32 to 30 percent) and his successful campaigns in 2008 (to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Craig Thomas) and 2012. Wyoming is a small state (the smallest in population) where voters expect to meet and talk with their senators and congressman on a regular basis, and Barrasso is no stranger. Prince, despite a brief residency, is. The Times reported, “Over the weekend, Mr. Prince traveled to Wyoming with his family to explore ways to establish residency there, said one person who had spoken to him.” Ways to establish residency? Liz Cheney, whose ties to Wyoming are well known, abandoned an effort to run against Enzi in the 2014 cycle after it became apparent that she was not going to win; she and her family moved back to the state, where as everyone there knows her parents grew up and her father was elected to the House six times, and was elected to the House in 2016.

Question: Why doesn’t Prince run for the Senate in Michigan? He grew up there and graduated from Hillsdale College, and served in Hillsdale’s volunteer fire department. Republicans have no obvious nominee to run against three-term Democrat Debbie Stabenow, who doesn’t have outstanding job approval and has gotten an average of 48.5 percent in four polls when matched against Robert Ritchie, the singer known as Kid Rock. A run against Stabenow might be a long shot for Prince, and a Michigan Senate seat is unlikely to prove a lifetime job for a Republican (the last two times Republican senators were re-elected in Michigan were in 1972 and 1948). But it isn’t inconceivable that he could win, and if he did, he would be replacing not a Republican who has voted more than 90 percent with Donald Trump but a Democrat who can be expected to vote at least 90 percent against him. That may not help Steve Bannon’s project, but it would help the president.

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