- - Monday, November 2, 2020

While virtually all the attention paid to races for the Senate in the 2020 cycle has focused on Democratic challengers facing off against embattled Republican incumbents, one lesser-noticed race featuring a Republican challenger against a Democratic incumbent may actually end up being the campaign that keeps the Senate in Republican hands — the Michigan contest, featuring a challenge by Republican John James against first-term Democratic incumbent Sen. Gary Peters.

For both men, this is their second Senate campaign. Mr. Peters’ first Senate campaign was six years ago, when he became the only Democratic non-incumbent Senate candidate to emerge victorious on election night in 2014. Since then, he’s been a reliable vote for the Democratic leader and has done nothing to distinguish himself as a subject matter expert in any particular area of interest.

Mr. James’ first Senate campaign, by contrast, was just two years ago, when he ran against incumbent Debbie Stabenow. In a terrible election cycle for Republicans, Mr. James nevertheless got within six points before ultimately falling short. The second time around, he is better organized and better funded.

Interestingly, the Detroit News — Michigan’s second-largest newspaper — endorsed Mr. Peters when he first ran for the Senate in 2014. But in 2020, the newspaper’s editorial board chose not to endorse him for reelection, and instead endorsed Mr. James.

That kind of reversal is rather rare. But a comparison of the two candidates makes evident why the reversal occurred.



For starters, Mr. Peters is a rather nondescript senator. Unlike the man he replaced — Carl Levin, who represented Michigan in the Senate for 36 years, from 1979-2015 — Mr. Peters is not well defined. He has done little to ensconce himself in the Senate, either as a subject matter expert or as a fighter on behalf of his constituents. His is a rather unexciting Senate career.

He is, however, a reliable vote for the liberal agenda. An analysis by ProPublica reveals that he has voted the same way as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer 88% of the time, and with California Sen. Kamala Harris — the most liberal member of the body – a solid 83% of the time.

Mr. James, on the other hand, has the potential to be far more commanding. A West Point graduate and AH-64 Apache helicopter pilot who served his country for eight years in the U.S. Army, during which time he was deployed to Iraq on multiple tours, Mr. James comes across as a natural leader. Were he to be elected to the Senate, he would not spend much time on the back bench before making his voice heard.

Too, he understands the world of job creation. With not one but two master’s degrees in business — one from Pennsylvania State University, and a second one from the University of Michigan — and time spent in the leadership of his family’s global supply chain management business, he knows how important President Trump’s regulatory reform efforts and the 2017 Tax Cut & Jobs Act have been (and remain) to restoring the kind of job growth we saw before the coronavirus pandemic hit. He knows that what unemployed workers want most is not an unemployment check from the government, but a good job that pays well.

Further, electing Mr. James — a 39-year-old Black man — would double the number of Black Republicans in the body, and increase by a third the number of Blacks in the Senate as a whole. Adding Mr. James’ voice would help provide additional perspectives to a caucus and a legislative body that could benefit from broader worldviews.

As we enter the final few days of the cycle, with majority party control of the Senate up for grabs, John James may be the candidate whose surprise victory keeps Republicans in the majority in the Senate. For the good of Michigan, and America as a whole, I urge friends and colleagues in Michigan to do what they can make it so.

• Jenny Beth Martin is president of Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund. 

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