Combat vet James, incumbent Stabenow vie for Senate seat
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — West Point graduate with two master’s degrees. Iraq War helicopter pilot. CEO. The first black Republican ever nominated for a U.S. Senate seat in Michigan.
John James undoubtedly stands out. His next mission: trying to defeat Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who has rarely lost in her nearly 44-year political career.
Not only is the three-term incumbent popular with voters. She again, as in her 2012 and 2006 re-election campaigns, is benefiting from electoral tailwinds. Midterms are traditionally difficult for the president’s party, and energized Democrats are motivated to bounce back after Donald Trump’s razor-thin victory in the state.
Facing those headwinds, James — a charismatic 37-year-old political newcomer from Farmington Hills whose endorsement from Trump aided his primary victory over a self-funding businessman — is touting his military and business experience. He slams the “ineffective” Stabenow as too liberal and “part and parcel” with the partisan rancor in Washington, where she has served 20-plus years.
Stabenow, 68, in turn has used TV ads and two low-exposure debates to highlight her bipartisan achievements — fighting Trump’s unsuccessful efforts to slash federal spending to protect and restore the Great Lakes; pushing to establish small-town health care clinics for veterans; using her position as the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee to shape farm legislation. Most recently, Trump signed her bill to outlaw so-called gag rules that bar pharmacists from telling consumers when they could save on prescriptions by paying cash instead of using insurance.
“I get things done,” said Stabenow, of Lansing. “I want people to know as somebody who’s lived here my whole life, that I understand their lives and I get up every day and work hard for them.”
Said James: “She will use ‘bipartisan’ as a buzzword. For me, bipartisanship is a way of life.” He said his Democratic parents, who faced Jim Crow discrimination while growing up in the south, “raised me to believe in faith and family, God and country, and service before self.”
James hopes a surge in fundraising — his $3.6 million haul last quarter doubled Stabenow’s — enables him to reach more voters in the closing weeks. He began running TV ads in October after she aired nearly $3.5 million of ads for a seven-week period in August and September.
Despite excitement for James among the GOP base and party officials who call him their best Senate candidate in a long time, national outside groups have not prioritized the Michigan race, focusing instead on battleground races in states such as Arizona and Nevada seen as key to determining whether Republicans hold the Senate or Democrats take control.
Still, Trump is enthusiastic about James — who he met at the White House in September. He calls him a “star,” and thousands showed for a recent James rally in Pontiac with Donald Trump Jr. and musicians Kid Rock and Ted Nugent. The crowd urged the president to also campaign for James in Michigan.
Stabenow — who resisted James’ request for live televised debates — is linking him to Trump, who has had low favorability and job approval ratings in Michigan.
“He said he would make President Trump proud. Well I spend every day working hard to make the people of Michigan proud of me,” she said.
He objects to criticism that he is too much of a Trump fan.
“I’m not anyone’s boy. I’m not anyone’s prop. I’m going to make sure that I prioritize God and country, in that order,” said James, who joined his father’s Detroit-based group of companies after being honorably discharged from the Army. James is the CEO of Renaissance Global Logistics, which ships supplier parts to auto factories around the world.
He casts himself as a mender of Washington’s partisan divide, as someone who can broaden Republicans’ appeal to minorities and millennials. He accuses Stabenow of not doing enough to help veterans and is urging the electorate to “vote for the person, not the party” in a state where Republicans have grabbed hold of a Senate seat just once in 40 years. He says Trump and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders won in Michigan in 2016 because they were not a traditional Republican or Democrat.
Stabenow, citing “very difficult” and divisive times in the country, says now is no time for “inexperience” in the capital. She defends her work to help veterans and warns that James wants to make Social Security and Medicare benefits part of the yearly budget process.
She has endorsements from the Republican-leaning Michigan Farm Bureau and Detroit Regional Chamber and is formidable politically. Her only general election loss was as a gubernatorial running mate. She won more Michigan votes than President Barack Obama in 2012 and Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm in 2006.
As of Sept. 30, Stabenow had raised $17 million since 2013, including $12.5 million this two-year cycle. She still had $3 million for the closing stretch after spending more than $3 million for ads to run through Election Day. James — whose father gave to Stabenow as recently as 2012 — had collected $7.8 million since jumping into the primary a year ago, with $2.7 million on hand.
No independent public polling has been released since early October, when Stabenow had double-digit leads and was above 50 percent support. James was still unknown to many voters, while more than half of likely voters had a favorable opinion of her.
EPIC-MRA pollster Bernie Porn said at least a third of Republican women viewed Stabenow positively and more than a quarter were backing her over James. James, he said, has a “tall order” making himself known to enough voters with limited time and money.
“His campaign efforts are likely to be too little and too late in the game,” he said.
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