Peters our choice for U.S. Senate

The Detroit News

Political campaigns are, in effect, job interviews. Candidates get an extended period to present themselves to voters, who make the decision whether to hire, or in some cases fire, the office seeker.

If we were making a hiring recommendation in Michigan's U.S. Senate race based solely on the job application and resume, Terri Lynn Land might have been our choice. Land was an effective and respected public servant in two terms as secretary of state, and her positions on the issues align most closely with our own.

But then came the job interview — the nine-month campaign — and Land fell well short.

Despite spending tens of millions to tear down her opponent, U.S. Rep. Gary Peters of Bloomfield Hills, and define herself, she nears the end of the campaign standing less favorably with Michigan voters than when it began.

Peters, on the other hand, has made the better case that he has the competence and confidence to do the job of a U.S. senator.

That's why our endorsement in this race goes to Congressman Gary Peters.

We recognize the recommendation will surprise, perhaps even anger, some of our more loyal readers, who expect us to side always with the conservative candidate. And that generally is our instinct as well.

But Land came into this race unprepared and never caught up. From the very beginning, she seemed nervous and uncomfortable on the campaign trail. On Mackinac Island last spring, she visibly panicked when approached by reporters after a joint appearance with Peters during the Detroit Regional Chamber's annual policy conference.

After that, she disappeared from public view for long stretches. Most recently, she refused to appear before the editorial board of one of the state's major newspapers because a staffer wrote something about her she considered unfair.

But a senator works for all the people, even those who don't share his or her views. Standing before the public is an essential piece of the job.

Still, we could forgive discomfort, and perhaps even find the lack of polish refreshing, if Land were better versed on the issues. In her interview with The Detroit News editorial board, too many of her answers lacked the depth we'd expect at this point in a campaign.

And while we are confident she would vote the way we prefer in the Senate, we aren't as certain she would ever become an influential member of that body.

That matters. Michigan is losing influence and clout with the retirement of Sen. Carl Levin, who Land and Peters seek to replace, and of three key House members — Democrat John Dingell of Dearborn and Republicans Dave Camp of Midland and Mike Rogers of Brighton.

All three chaired congressional committees and were well-positioned to advocate for Michigan and its automobile industry, which has few friends in Washington.

We believe Peters, with his experience in the House, can better fill the influence gap. He has worked across the aisle to expand the automotive caucus in Congress, wisely bringing in members from other states in which foreign automakers are starting to expand.

We have no illusions about where he will position himself in the Senate. Peters is one of the few Senate candidates this year to invite President Barack Obama to campaign with him, and he has voted consistently with the president and Democratic leadership.

But he has broken ranks a few times to cast pro-business votes, most notably to give employers more time to adjust to the Affordable Care Act, which Peters supported but acknowledges now needs fixes, and to provide some relief from the Dodd-Frank financial industry regulations.

Peters, if elected, should strive to more often show the independence and moderation he claims on the campaign trail. The Senate, under Harry Reid's leadership, is badly broken. It will be up to newcomers like Peters to restore it to the deliberative body it was intended to be and bring back the tradition of hard negotiations toward a middle ground.

Our primary worry about Peters is where he will stand on energy policy. His campaign has been assisted by $3 million from groups tied to Tom Steyer, the billionaire California environmentalist who is committed to stopping the KeystoneXL Pipeline and ending the use of carbon fuels.

Cheap, reliable sources of energy are essential to Michigan's manufacturers, and in particular to its automakers. Peters says he owes nothing to Steyer and will support Keystone if environmental concerns are answered. We hope he means it, and that he remembers that on many issues, including energy, what's good for California could be terrible for Michigan.

Peters was also on the wrong side of the Detroit bankruptcy, opposing state intervention without offering a credible alternative plan.

Still, we do find Peters to be a thoughtful and intelligent member of Congress. Adding brain power to that body is more important than shoring up ideological bulkheads.

This endorsement admittedly is a philosophical outlier for The News.

But it is consistent with our longstanding commitment to recommending the best candidates for the job. We believe Gary Peters would do the better job for Michigan in the U.S. Senate.

To see the full slate of Detroit News endorsements, go to detroitnews.com/opinion.