Second Time Lucky: Will John James Become Michigan's First GOP Senator in 20 Years?

Republican U.S. Senate candidate John James speaks during a rally in Pontiac, Mich. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Michigan might have been President Donald Trump’s most difficult win in the 2016 election, nabbing the state by fewer than 11,000 votes out more than 4.5 million cast — but the state might be looking redder than ever, thanks in part to second-time senate contender John E. James.

The 38-year-old businessman and combat veteran won the GOP nomination handily in 2018, following a late — but crucial? — endorsement from President Trump. While James failed to take down three-term Democrat incumbent Debbie Stabenow in 2018, he did come closer than any Michigan Republican since Spencer Abraham lost his reelection bid in 2000. But Stabenow beat James soundly by 6.5 points. Nevertheless, the man once under consideration to become Trump’s second UN ambassador is making another go, this time taking on one-term incumbent Democrat Gary Peters. And if fundraising is anything to go by, the West Point grad might just have a real shot at becoming the first Republican elected to the Senate from Michigan in the 21st Century.

Michigan Live reports that James “appears to be chipping into Peters’ financial advantage by posting a record-breaking fundraising haul.” Peters might have been feeling confident, having raised $2.5 million in the fourth quarter of last year, and with $8 million sitting in the bank. Not to be outdone, the James campaign “picked up $3.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2019, out-raising Peters by $1 million.” Peters holds a small advantage in total funds raised last year, but the momentum looks to be with James.

Not bad for a local guy who never held office before.

That’s not to say it’s all over but the victory party. A Republican hasn’t won a Senate race in Michigan since 1994, the year of the huge GOP sweep in reaction to President Bill Clinton’s first-term overreaches on gun control and health coverage. Since then, every Democrat hasn’t just won, but won bigly.

Still, James came closer in 2018 than any Republican in a quarter of a century, and in a year heavily favoring the Democrats overall. Trump worked hard in 2016 to capture traditional blue-collar Democratic voters, and as former Trump advisor Steve Bannon told The Guardian in December, “We’ve turned the Republican Party into a working-class party.”

What better way to prove that than by nabbing a senate seat in union-heavy Michigan?

Complicating things for the Democrats perhaps is their own incumbent, Senator Peters. He’s the ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee, and is generally considered a moderate in a party increasingly dominated by its far-left wing. American voters tend to punish at the polls parties they feel have gone too far in either direction, but ironically it’s often the more moderate incumbents who pay the price. Michigan voters looking to punish the Dems for moving so far to the left, might just find safe haven in the accomplished young Republican from Detroit.