But Republicans in Michigan and Washington said Weiser is one of their best bets to beat Stabenow, who raised more than $1 million in the first quarter, leaving her with nearly $3 million in the bank.
“Let me just make this real clear,” Weiser said in a telephone interview after his NRSC visit. “At this time, I am not a candidate for the U.S. Senate. I am looking at supporting whoever I believe is the best candidate to win the Senate race.”
Weiser said that he had earlier considered running for Senate but insisted he was in Washington this week to see old friends at the State Department and the NRSC as well as “a few U.S. senators.” He declined to say which senators.
Weiser, 59, served as U.S. ambassador in Bratislava, the Slovak capital, until December. He founded McKinley Associates, a national real-estate investment company, in 1968, according to the website of the U.S. embassy in Slovakia. The website also says that McKinley, with its property management subsidiary, owns or manages real estate valued at more than $1 billion. The corporate headquarters are in Ann Arbor, Mich., where Weiser lives.
Michigan Republicans portrayed Weiser as a household name among GOP activists in his home state. Weiser said he has contributed in recent years to several Republican campaigns — including those of President Bush, Sen. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), former Michigan Gov. John Engler and four Michigan Supreme Court candidates.
Democrats shrugged off efforts by Republicans to recruit a viable candidate to challenge Stabenow, pointing out that several potential GOP contenders — including Reps. Candice Miller and Mike Rogers and Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land — already have said no.
“Debbie Stabenow has been a remarkably effective senator for Michigan,” Phil Singer, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said. “It’s one of the reasons Republicans have had such a difficult time trying to find and recruit a candidate.”
Stabenow served as the DSCC’s vice chair during the 2003-2004 election cycle but, since she is up for reelection, no longer serves at the campaign committee.
Some Republicans in Washington have acknowledged that beating Stabenow — who knocked off GOP Sen. Spencer Abraham in 2000 — would be tough.
But, they said, forcing Democrats to spend precious blood, sweat and tears on Michigan would channel resources away from more competitive states such as Minnesota, Nebraska and Florida.
Chuck Yob, Michigan’s Republican National Committeeman, described Weiser as “a very qualified, very smart guy.” Yob and Nate Bailey, spokesman for the state Republican Party, also said that Weiser’s wife, Eileen Weiser, had been elected to serve on the Michigan State Board of Education, raising Weiser’s name recognition.
While other potential GOP Senate candidates also have high name I.D. — most notably, Abraham’s wife, Jane — Weiser has a great deal of money. Yob said he expects Weiser would be willing to spend that money on a Senate race. Another Republican compared him to Sen. Jon Corzine, the New Jersey Democrat who spent tens of millions of his fortune from Goldman Sachs to win a Senate seat in 2000.
Weiser said that during his visit to the NRSC he did not meet with Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), who chairs the committee. And he voiced optimism about his party’s prospects in Michigan heading into 2006, even though President Bush failed to win the state in 2000 or 2004 and the current governor and both senators are Democrats.
“Having just returned to Michigan after having been overseas for three and a half years, I’m hopeful we’ll have a very strong candidate,” he said. He added: “I believe very strongly” in the Republican Party.
Pastor Keith Butler is the only Republican officially in the Senate race.