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U.S. Senate hopeful Land runs GOP game plan her way

Gary Heinlein
The Detroit News

Terri Lynn Land is running for U.S. Senate on the mainstream Republican playbook of vowing to reduce government spending, repeal and replace President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act and allow a Canadian oil pipeline into the United States.

But the former Michigan secretary of state from the Grand Rapids area is battling Democratic U.S. Rep. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township with a unique approach to the stump.

In the spring and summer, she was criticized for doing too little campaigning and relying too much on TV ads. "I'm Dutch west Michigan and we're kind of quiet folk," she told The Detroit News editorial board last week. "We just do what needs to get done and get it done."

Land, who lately has made more public appearances and given more interviews, wants to cap nearly 20 years in public service Nov. 4 by winning a key race in the GOP effort to take control of the Democrat-led Senate.

Land essentially is running both against the president and Peters, who voted in favor of Obama's health care overhaul and some other White House initiatives. She regularly charges that Obama is failing to lead effectively on problems ranging from the exploding Middle East to the nation's slow economic growth.

"We're talking about how important it is to keep these good-paying jobs in Michigan," Land told employees of Emergent Biosolutions during a campaign-related tour last week of its Lansing laboratories — the nation's only source of anthrax vaccine.

"We're talking about repealing and replacing Obamacare, which discourages businesses, and about national security. As you know, that's become the No. 1 issue now," she said referring to the insurgency in Iraq and Syria by Islamic extremists she sees as a threat to the futures of her grown son and daughter. Her standard line is that Obama "needs to lead" by outlining a clearer strategy for combating the Islamic State threat.

Expanding on her proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act in another speech, Land said the nation needs a health care system "that's affordable, that's bought with pre-tax dollars (and) that's competitive in price by (allowing for customer health insurance) purchasing across state lines."

In June 2013, Land became the first Republican to announce her candidacy for the seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, after 36 years. Bigger names such as U.S. Reps. Mike Rogers of Howell and Dave Camp of Midland subsequently rejected GOP recruitment efforts.

With Levin's departure, Michigan Republicans argue they have a shot at their first U.S. Senate seat since Spencer Abraham won a single term in 1994.

Wooing political center

She was Kent County's clerk-register of deeds for seven years before running unsuccessfully for the Michigan Board of Education in 2000. She then won two terms as secretary of state and was elected the Michigan GOP's national committeewoman in 2012 before resigning this year to focus on the Senate race.

Like Peters, who describes himself as an independent voice in Congress, Land is trying to woo Michigan's political center.

She recently modified her criticism of Peters' alleged support of "amnesty" for undocumented immigrants by saying she favors an "ability to be here legally" — but not citizenship — for those who follow laws and pay taxes. But she hasn't detailed what legal status short of citizenship would look like.

It leaves open the question of how much she differs on immigration from Peters, who supported Obama's proposed DREAM Act. The proposal would provide a path to citizenship for children who came to the United States with undocumented immigrant parents, graduated from high school and attended college or served in the military.

Land has been fighting attacks by Democrats portraying her as opposing equal pay for women because she rejects the Democrats' proposed Paycheck Fairness Act. Republicans have attacked the proposal as removing the presumption of innocence for companies accused of wage discrimination.

Land told The News' editorial board as secretary of state she made sure her female employees were paid equally with male workers and instituted a flex-time policy for them. It was a response to months of opponents' charges that have helped Peters build a 17-point lead among likely women voters, according to an Oct. 2-4 Detroit News-WDIV poll.

Land's expressed support for the Keystone pipeline contrasts with Peters' more-nuanced position. He voted against the U.S. House GOP majority's proposed Nov. 1, 2011, deadline for Obama to decide the fate of the pipeline, which would carry Canadian tar sands oil to the Gulf of Mexico.

Denies opposing bailout

Land, a 56-year-old granddaughter of immigrants from the Netherlands, has found rough going in the flurry of attack ads and the $32 million in campaign spending from both sides through the end of September.

She has struggled to refute Democrats' claims — which she denies — that she opposed the 2009 federal bailout of Michigan's auto industry. She now says she would have supported the bailout if it had come up for a vote in the Senate.

Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Lon Johnson has accused Land of using ads bankrolled by Kansas' billionaire Koch brothers through the group Americans for Prosperity to "buy" the U.S. Senate seat. As secretary of state, she issued a 2004 ruling that donors helping fund independent ads in state judicial races could remain anonymous.

Land's supporters have pointed out that money from "environmental extremists" such as California hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer and the League of Conservation Voters have helped fund attack ads against her in support of Peters.

Campaign help arrives

Lansing public relations consultant John Truscott said with Election Day nearing, Land faces a "tough road" to the Senate seat because of the number of "false issues that have been allowed to get traction" in the campaign, such as petroleum coke piles along the Detroit River.

"She's got a great background to win a Senate seat," said Truscott, a long-time Capitol insider and former press secretary to ex-Gov. John Engler. "She won two statewide elections, polled very well outstate and was a very good secretary of state."

Fresh help for Land came this week in visits from ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Republican U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, who said in a prior teleconference call that Congress needs more "moms ... who have a record of making government work like Terri."

Ayotte is referring to measures under which Land sought through technology to improve service and reduce wait lines while trimming costs and the number of branch offices when she was secretary of state for eight years. She has sparred with Peters' campaign about whether her office or the governor's office was most responsible for a troubled $40 million computer upgrade that began in her first year in office and that, according to Republican successor Ruth Johnson, still doesn't work.

Bush said Land could help form a new Senate and House GOP majority "that will get back to solving problems, maybe even having Republicans and Democrats get back to talking with one another, maybe even passing a budget, maybe even approving the (Keystone) XL pipeline, maybe even doing the things that we know will allow us to create high-wage jobs."

But the Koch brothers ended their investments toward Land's election in August and the National Republican Senate Committee pulled the plug on $810,000 in October advertising purchases on her behalf. Another group, the conservative Ending Spending Action Fund, said it will make up part of the loss by buying at least another $1 million in ad buys supporting Land.

Land said such groups make their decisions separate from the campaigns and expressed confidence she'll still have ads on TV through Election Day.

The Grandville native has poured at least $2.9 million of her family's money into the campaign. Early in the campaign, she boasted about Land & Co., the firm started by her father and in which her husband, Dan Hibma, has become a partner. The business develops real estate and builds apartments. In August 2013, she disclosed at least $34 million in assets tied to "my personal and family income."

But Land has since separated herself from the actions of Land & Co. and denied ever working for the company. A company spokesman said she did unpaid work for the company and said campaign filings listing her as an "owner" were erroneous.

Her campaign has blasted Peters, a former financial firm executive, as a "hypocrite" for his personal stock holdings in a French oil firm that produces petroleum coke, and then belatedly sold her shares in a mutual fund that owned shares of the same oil company. Peters railed for the removal of Detroit River pet coke piles that were owned by a Koch company.

Such fights have become trademarks of the often-personal Senate race.

This week, Land spurned a Detroit Free Press endorsement interview unless the newspaper apologizes for a columnist's comments about her that she considers sexist.

Land has served in many public roles but sometimes appears uncomfortable in the glare of TV lights. While holding local and state elective offices, she also has found the time to be involved in a long list of community and social groups, ranging from Byron Center's Fine Arts Council to the Early Morning Riser's Club in Grand Rapids.

Land's campaign has launched a new "Moms Get Things Done" TV ad in which she goes on camera to imply Peters thinks she's not up to the task because she's a mother — an effort to link him to the sexism issue.

"Congressman Peters says a mom like me isn't up to the job," Land says in the commercial. "But moms like me get things done. Let's secure the border, repeal Obamacare and get equal pay for equal work for men and women."


Terri Lynn Land

Age: 56

Hometown: Byron Center in Grand Rapids area

Family: Married to Dan Hibma; two children

Education: Bachelor's degree from Hope College in Holland

Experience: Michigan secretary of state, 2003-2010; Michigan Republican National Committee member, 2012-early 2014; Kent County clerk-register of deeds, 1993-2000; Owner of Southview Apartments complex in Grand Rapids with her son through Green Light Management