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Political fantasies of rich guys

Jack Lessenberry

Men in late middle age are capable of daydreaming. For most of us, these dreams are fairly pedestrian. Maybe, just maybe, we might be the first 60-something to suddenly break into the major leagues. Maybe that one lottery ticket I buy every Thanksgiving will turn out to be a big winner and I’ll be able to quit my job.

Those are fairly typical fantasies. But things change for those few of us who actually do have a whole lot of money. Some do things like acquire a 24 year old girlfriend, whether they are already married or not. Others buy large boats, or perhaps a Maserati.

And a select few – a self-selected few – with millions to squander – run for governor or senator. There’s Shri Thanedar on the Democratic side, for example, a nice man with not a day’s worth of experience in government. He’s willing to spend more than five million of his own money on a quixotic quest for his party’s nomination for governor.

And now comes one Sandy Pensler, a rich guy from Grosse Pointe witha private equity firm and four manufacturing plants. He just announced that he’s prepared to spend millions to win the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate next year, and then defeat incumbentDebbie Stabenow. Now, if I were unscrupulous, I’d tell Mr. Pensler,

“Sandy, I’ve got a deal for you. Instead of running, take half of what you want to spend on that race, give it to me, and we will both be better off.” That would be unethical, and in any event Pensler wouldn’t listen.

But I’d still be right.

Michigan Republicans have a special set of fantasies about Stabenow, fantasies that reemerge every six years, about a year and a half before the election. They become convinced they can beat her. Last summer, all sorts of people were jumping into the race or seriously talking about it. Then, as the days shortened, most sobered up.

They noted her $7 million dollar campaign fund, her ability to appeal to usually Republican groups like farmers, and the fact that she has been elected to the Senate three times by margins that have steadily grown. Five years ago, she was supposed to be toast when Former House Intelligence Committee Chair Pete Hoekstra took her on.

As summer wore on, the field of candidates dwindled, and last week, Congressman Fred Upton of Kalamazoo, the GOP’s last best hope, said thanks but no thanks. That left Republicans with John James, a little-known businessman, and the bow-tie wearing former Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Young, as candidates, neither with much in campaign funds.

So, enter Sandy Pensler, who has a Harvard law degree, and says Stabenow doesn’t understand economics. Well, we’ll see. The most interesting thing I know about Pensler is that when he was a young business turnaround specialist, he tried to sell the New York Mets to one Donald Trump, an attempt that ended badly. “We had a little altercation over some stuff,” he told his fellow Republicans on Mackinac Island two months ago.

I’d like to know more about how that went down. Now, of course, he thinks the Donald’s policies are terrific. What voters think of Pensler’s candidacy remains to be seen.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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