Mike Bouchard, a veteran police officer and state lawmaker who says he was inspired to run for the U.S. Senate in part by the terrorist attacks of 2001, rode his homeland security theme to a Republican primary victory Tuesday over minister Keith Butler.
Bouchard faces incumbent Democrat Debbie Stabenow in November.
With 87 percent of the precincts counted, Bouchard — sheriff of Oakland County in southeastern Michigan — had 60 percent, or 306,001 votes. Butler had 40 percent, or 204,383 votes.
Bouchard won most counties across the state, including Oakland County, while Butler had a strong showing in some southwest Michigan counties.
"We've crisscrossed this state and people want real results," Bouchard said. "They're tired of wrestling, they're tired of the gridlock, they're tired of partisanship and they want results. A new Michigan starts now."
Bouchard and Butler, a minister and former Detroit City councilman now living in Troy, are fairly well-known in southeast Michigan. But they battled to win votes and boost their name recognition statewide in a race that has been overshadowed by Michigan's gubernatorial campaign.
Bouchard watched campaign results with supporters in Birmingham, while Butler hosted a campaign party at a Southfield hotel.
Before Bouchard declared victory, Butler thanked his supporters and said he did not want to hold them up.
"We just want to say thank you, thank you and thank you again," Butler said. He did not return to officially tell his supporters he had conceded. Shortly after midnight, Butler's campaign told supporters to go home and said the candidate had called Bouchard to formally concede.
Butler noted that his campaign accomplished more than some analysts thought he would, raising money and performing well in some Republican strongholds.
"We got in early and we did all the things they said we couldn't do," Butler said. "If you stay up there and work hard, you can make a difference."
But Bouchard was able to line up support from more rank-and-file Republican leaders than Butler, said Bill Rustem, president of Lansing political consulting firm Public Sector Consultants.
"In primaries, it always comes down to who can get out their vote," Rustem said. "It's very obvious Bouchard did a good job getting out his vote, especially in his own county."
Bouchard was capturing about 69 percent of the vote in Oakland County with 52 percent of precincts reporting.
Stabenow did not have a primary opponent. She planned to kickoff a three-day campaign swing Wednesday with stops in Detroit, Flint and Grand Rapids, followed by a northern Michigan swing Thursday through Marquette, Traverse City and Alpena, with a final stop Friday in Lansing.
Either Republican could have a tough time beating Stabenow. The first-term senator has better name recognition and a healthier campaign bank account.
Stabenow reported nearly $4.4 million in cash on hand as of July 19, more than Bouchard and Butler had spent combined at that point in the primary election. Stabenow's campaign already has bought more than $2.5 million worth of air time for campaign TV commercials before the November election.
Butler and Bouchard agree on many of the issues facing Michigan. Both are anti-abortion, oppose gay marriage and generally back President Bush in Iraq.
Bouchard tried to distinguish himself by emphasizing his legislative and law enforcement experience. Butler tried to use the political experience against Bouchard, labeling him a career politician.
Bouchard, 50, has been sheriff of Michigan's second-largest county since 1999. He previously spent about eight years in the state Senate and part of a year in the state House. One of his signature accomplishments was authoring the bill that created Michigan's sex offender registry.
Bouchard was a full-time public safety officer at age 20. He helped sort through the rubble of the World Trade Center in 2001 and last year helped keep order in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Bouchard stressed his law enforcement background throughout the campaign, saying homeland security is one of the biggest issues facing Michigan and the nation today.
Butler, 50, built a megachurch from scratch. Word of Faith International Christian Center now has 21,000 members at its Southfield church and thousands more in satellites across the U.S. and in several countries.
Butler, who grew up in Detroit, was raised as a Democrat. But he switched parties soon after hearing Ronald Reagan speak in Detroit in 1980 at the Republican National Convention.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee plans to make the Michigan race one of its top races. The GOP says Stabenow has been ineffective in her first term and may also be vulnerable because of Michigan's sluggish economy.
Mid-July polls showed Stabenow with leads of more than 20 percentage points in hypothetical matchups against either Republican candidate. But a large number of voters were undecided in those polls.