Republican John James announced another campaign for Senate in Michigan Thursday, setting up a major clash with first-term Democratic Sen. Gary Peters.
James, a veteran and businessman, ran for Senate in 2018, losing by 7 percentage points to Sen. Debbie Stabenow. But Senate Republicans have eagerly recruited him to run again, believing his proven fundraising ability and a full campaign cycle to run would make him even more competitive this time around.
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Republicans are mostly on defense next year as they seek to protect their 53-47 Senate majority, and putting Michigan in play would be a critical boost, giving them another offensive opportunity, along with Alabama, to cushion their control of the chamber.
“I believe that the time again is to serve,” James said Thursday on Fox News Channel’s morning show. “I believe that right now nothing has changed. I still have a passion for service, I still have a clear vision, understand that service before self.
“I also, as a combat veteran, understand the service and sacrifice our veterans make every single day and willing to stand up for this country,” James said in his announcement, which came just hours after the 75th anniversary commemoration of the allied invasion on D-Day. “Not any party, not any ideology, but putting country first, putting Michigan first, and I’m looking forward to continuing my service.”
During the interview, James also pledged to donate 5 percent of his campaign funds to charity.
James’s decision comes in the face of opposition from the Trump campaign. In recent weeks, Trump campaign officials told the National Republican Senatorial Committee that a James Senate bid would amp up Democratic engagement, investment, and turnout in Michigan — and hence hurt the president’s prospects in the state. At one point, the reelection campaign composed a memo describing how a James Senate bid would impact Trump.
Trump aides contend they have little margin for error in the state, which is seen as critical for the president’s 2020 hopes. During his first presidential bid, Trump carried Michigan by less than 1 percentage point. Instead, they said they preferred for James to instead wage a bid for one of the state’s congressional seats.
James met with the president and adviser Jared Kushner in the White House last month. During the meeting, Trump did not explicitly encourage or discourage James from running for Senate, according to three people familiar with the conversation. Trump’s approach, several people pointed out, contrasted with his past aggressive recruitment of GOP Senate candidates. Ahead of the 2018 midterms, the president vigorously wooed then-Rep. Kevin Cramer into the North Dakota Senate race, at one point even meeting with his family in the Oval Office.
Senate GOP officials vigorously disagreed with the Trump team’s assertion, arguing that a James Senate bid would give the president the strongest possible Michigan ticket with which to campaign. The NRSC produced a memo recently outlining how James’ strength and name identification would boost GOP turnout in the state, to Trump’s benefit.
James is already beginning to woo major GOP givers. This weekend, he is slated to be a special guest at a Republican National Committee donor retreat in Chicago.
Peters campaign has been preparing early for a battleground race, and was ready for James to run. In a memo earlier this week, campaign manager Dan Farough highlighted Peters’ previous victories in difficult electoral climates, including his double-digit win in 2014, a year when Republicans gained 9 Senate seats. Peters raised $1.9 million in the first quarter of this year and has $3 million in cash on hand at the end of March. (James had $478,000 left in his campaign account as of March 31.)
Farough also pointed to James’ deleting hundreds of social media posts from the previous campaign, including on health care and support for Trump, and said that his recruitment would signal to voters “that the entrenched interests in Washington think he’d be a reliable vote for them instead of Michiganders.”