John James

Trump-backed conservative, Iraq veteran upsets establishment favorite in Michigan Senate primary

By —— Bio and Archives--August 8, 2018

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Sandy Pensler probably would have been a good soldier for Mitch McConnell. He would have pleased local business leaders, brought federal dollars back to Michigan and generally voted yes on Republican-backed legislation.

He would have fit in. And establishment Republicans in Michigan figured he was sufficiently connected to donors and liked by party leaders that he was the best choice to go up against Democrat Debbie Stabenow in the fall.


President Trump thought otherwise, and yesterday Michigan Republican primary voters defied the early polls by agreeing with the president:

Farmington Hills businessman and military veteran John James on Tuesday won the Republican U.S. Senate primary, as President Trump loomed large in the contest to face U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow in the fall.

With 86 percent of precincts reporting, James was ahead with 55 percent of the vote to Grosse Pointe financier Sandy Pensler’s 45 percent. Pensler called James to concede after 10 p.m.

James, 37, faces an uphill battle against Stabenow, the popular 66-year-old incumbent who is seeking a fourth six-year term. She holds a major cash advantage with $6.27 million in the bank as of July 18 after spending $3.2 million to reserve television air time for the last four weeks before Election Day.

In a surprising move for a supposed racist who hates black people, the president seemed quite pleased:

Can James win? Not easily, but yes. Michigan is not a blue a state as it used to be. Our governor, attorney general and secretary of state are all Republicans. Both houses of our Legislature are controlled by Republicans – the Senate overwhelmingly so. And President Trump turned the state red in 2016 for the first time since George Bush beat Michael Dukakis here in 1988.

But the influence of the UAW here is still strong, and both our U.S. senators have been Democrats for more than a generation with the exception of one term served by Republican Spencer Abraham from 1994 through 2000. He lost re-election to Stabenow, who has been in office ever since. She is certainly not an intellectual powerhouse, nor can she boast many major legislative achievements, but she’s been shrewd about consolidating her political influence and maintaining the backing of the people who fund Democrat campaigns.

There remains in Michigan an auto industry mindset that we can never quite make it without Washington protecting us from the inevitable disaster we can’t stave off. It’s one of the reasons we’ve always sent Democrats to the Senate. They’ll make sure that GM, Ford, Chrysler and the UAW never really have to be subject to the realities of the market.

But Michigan adopted right-to-work a few years back, so we’re changing. Maybe John James can convince Michigan voters we should change our view of who we need in Washington, and why. It would certainly be no great loss if we didn’t have to see or hear Debbie Stabenow anymore, and that Republican majority in the U.S. Senate could do a lot more if it was bigger than the tiny thread we see today.


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