Election 2020

Power-Packed Endorsements Rock Michigan Senate, Gubernatorial Primaries

Republican U.S. Senate candidate John James makes a campaign call at his headquarters in Livonia, Mich., on Aug. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

No one, including Hillary, thought Donald Trump could win Michigan in 2016. Now, the president doesn’t see any reason that he can’t help knock longtime Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow out of office and ensure the GOPer of his choice replaces term-limited Republican Gov. Rick Snyder in November.

New York Democratic congressional primary candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has made it clear who she thinks should be the next governor of Michigan and – no surprise here – her favorite is not the choice of the state’s Democratic establishment.

An African-American West Point graduate, combat veteran, businessman, and Republican, John James, is President Trump’s choice to take on Stabenow in the general election.

“Rarely have I seen a candidate with such great potential. West Point graduate, successful businessman and a [sic] African American leader…” Trump tweeted July 27.  A second tweet from the Oval Office followed minutes later in which Trump wrote, “…John is strong on crime and borders, loves our Military, our Vets and our Second Amendment. He will be a star. He has my full and total Endorsement!”

James responded with a tweet of thanks and made it clear that he intended to be on the president’s side in the Senate.

“Thank you, President Trump! I look forward to working with you to make MICHIGAN, and AMERICA, great again…” James tweeted.

James is in an incredibly close race in the Michigan GOP’s Tuesday primary with another businessman, Sandy Pensler. It was a dead heat in a poll taken before the presidential endorsement. But with 77 percent of Michigan Republicans supporting the president in a recent survey — and 39 percent describing themselves as “Trump Republicans” – it’s a good bet Trump’s nod in James’ favor will impact the race.

Pensler admitted to being “disappointed that President Trump decided to make an endorsement in this campaign.” But while the EPIC-MRA/Detroit Free Press poll released the day before Trump’s tweets of support showed James with 39 percent of the likely GOP vote and Pensler with 38 percent, another 23 percent of Republicans said they hadn’t made up their minds.

And beyond that, another 40 percent said they didn’t feel like they really knew either candidate.

So with such widespread support for Trump among the Michigan GOP base, Pensler made sure to voice his support for their man in the Oval Office.

“My support continues for President Trump and his policies, and I believe Michigan Republican voters will see that I have a greater depth and understanding of the issues and will be a stronger voice for our great state in the U.S. Senate,” Pensler added.

As powerful as Trump could be in the Michigan GOP primary, his coattails shrink in November.  An NBC/Marist Poll of Michigan’s registered voters showed 54 percent disapproved of Trump’s performance in office in July.

But with or without Trump, Stabenow is a three-term incumbent with a 55 percent to 37 percent lead over James in the NBC/Marist poll and a 52 percent to 37 percent advantage over Pensler.

The NBC/Marist poll showed Michigan voters also favored former state senator Gretchen Whitmer for governor. Whitmer would have defeated the GOP front-runner, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, 47 percent to 38 percent if the election had been held the day voters were polled.

But not every Democrat wants Whitmer to top the party’s ticket in November.

The Marist poll showed Whitmer leading Shri Thanedar 35 percent to 25 percent and Abdul El-Sayed 35 to 22 percent, but that was before El-Sayed was endorsed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and New York Democratic Socialist sensation Ocasio-Cortez.

“The reason I am here today is because what we do in Flint, how we treat Flint is how we treat the nation. The only way to give Flint the dignity it deserves is to fight for Medicare for all, to get money out of politics, to make sure we fight for a 100 percent renewable energy economy in our lifetime,” Ocasio-Cortez said during a campaign appearance for El-Sayed in Flint, Mich., on July 28. “And Abdul El-Sayed is the only person who can deliver on that.”

The Marist poll also showed 18 percent of Michigan primary voters were still undecided.

Will her endorsement carry the same power among Michigan Democrats that President Trump’s blessing is expected to deliver in the GOP primary? The good news for El-Sayed is that it could. The bad news for the Michigan Democratic Party is that it could.

After the Republicans’ 2016 victory in Michigan — blamed on many progressive Dems staying home rather than vote for Hillary and others who didn’t vote because they couldn’t imagine Trump winning — state Democrats aren’t going to take any chances in 2018.

Brandon Dillon, Michigan Democratic Party chairman, told the Detroit Free Press that the party wants to make sure Democrats vote in November whether they think the party’s primary victors are progressive enough or not.

All of the Democratic Party’s primary candidates, along with the party faithful, are expected to attend a luncheon at Detroit’s Book Cadillac Hotel the day after Tuesday’s primary to put hard feelings aside and map a path to victory in November.

Part of that process will be healing a divide between progressive and establishment Democrats.

“Some people will need some time to process a loss, and we’re not making any assumptions about who will win. Whether it’s Abdul, Shri or Gretchen, it’s up to them to set the tone, because there will be a significant amount of people who didn’t vote for them,” Dillon said.

“We have an opportunity this year,” Dillon added, “and people understand that it’s not the time to carry a primary past Aug. 7.”