The news of the day is the announced candidacy of State Senator Bill Hardiman fore the Third Congressional District. While this hardly counts as a surprise — he had sent out a press release last week announcing the event in Grandville — nonetheless it is a surprise at how unprepared Hardiman actually is. Although the announcement was anticipated, no web site went live to greet the new campaign; also of note, few supporters were lined up to go on line at Mlive or the TV stations to put in a good word. The result, in short, is that of a campaign not quite in gear.
This is perhaps not surprising. Hardiman finished the year with little left in his state accounts, with less than $400 in his senate account, and less than $2,000 in his Leadership Fund. That he should be in this position, underfunded and not quite ready speaks plenty about the state of affairs in the Kent County GOP.
First, let’s state the obvious: Hardiman was not planning a run or Congress. Either Vern Ehlers had thought he was going ahead, or Hardiman had been thinking about retiring, but in either case finishing up 2009, there is little evidence that Hardiman was amassing the resources necessary for a run. To fail on the web site also suggests that the personnel are not in place — who exactly is going to help manage a touch campaign against Justin Amash? (And how will he — or she — be paid?)
The Hardiman candidacy also gives a window into the world of GOP internal politics.
If we posit Hardiman as an anti-Amash vote, then what is it about Justin that others don’t like? Can we make out the outlines of the doubt about Amash?
To begin with, there is the split between Ada and Grandville. Kent County divides east and west in both parties; here, it is between the center of economic power in Ada, and that found in west. The stumbling search for a candidate to run against David LaGrand speaks to a breakdown of the GOP, and especially of its current leader, Joeanne Voorhees. Even before the Amash candidacy there had been rumors of deep dissatisfaction with the Kent County leadership.
But the road surely runs both ways. Where Amash fights against the perceived forced unionization of day care providers, Hardiman trumpets his standing up for marriage. It’s Tea Party v. Church Coffee. Grandville makes sense then, not only as the source of needed money (e.g. the Land Victory Fund), but as the political home for Hardiman’s politics.
Such a move should not give centrists in the County any comfort. If Amash’s cup of tea is not the popular taste, there is likewise little evidence that a return to social conservatism is any better (though, in fairness, Hardiman scarcely is the firebrand that others have been). That moment has passed. That said, Hardiman’s presence would certainly dampen a Kooiman candidacy (again, with the west side being his natural political home), although the lack of resources in the Hardiman camp will be tempting for Kooiman to jump in.
But the big story lies elsewhere. An under-resourced Hardiman is the best news possible for former County Commissioner Steve Heacock, who is also planning to toss his hat in the ring later this week. His presence would be that of the “adult” the economic centrist. The question however will be whether the party wants an adult, or does it want to rock? Or will it settle for the comforting outlnes of a mature believer?