Michigan GOP Senate candidates already readying for primary: 'We want to beat Debbie Stabenow'

John James came to cast his ballot at the Old Orchard Methodist church in Farmington Hills, Mich., with his son Hudson riding on his shoulders and the wind at his back. Not only did the polls numbers show that he jumped to a 7-point advantage in the last week, President Trump had just tweeted a second endorsement of him the day before. 

“John James is a potential Republican star who has a Senate primary election tomorrow in Michigan. If he becomes the Republican candidate, he will beat the Open Borders, weak on crime, Democrat, Debbie Stabenow. Vote for John James and Make American Great Again!” Trump tweeted.

James has never had a conversation with the president, but the tweet is enough to get things buzzing, with a large percentage of Republican voters undecided and headed to cast a ballot.

“We’re really excited, folks are getting back to me on text messages and emails and the energy is real,” James said after he voted.

James is a West Point graduate and decorated combat veteran who flew Apache attack helicopters in Iraq. He returned to Michigan to take over his father’s business: the James group. His campaign is very much in support of President Trump’s agenda, but so is the campaign of his Republican opponent.

Sandy Pensler states in his ad that he is “a conservative businessman who stands with President Trump.”  They synch on the border wall, China and Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court. However, a tape surfaced in which Pensler said that the President speaks at a “fourth-grade level.” Pensler claims the statement is out of context. Still, the Presidential endorsement went to his Republican opponent.

“It’s obvious, I’d really rather have the president’s endorsement, but there is only one endorsement that matters and that is the people of Michigan,” Pensler told Fox News.

Sandy Pensler is a Republican candidate seeking election to the U.S. Senate from Michigan. Pensler is running in the primary on August 7, 2018.

Sandy Pensler said, “It’s obvious, I’d really rather have the president’s endorsement, but there is only one endorsement that matters and that is the people of Michigan.”  (Campaign photo)

Whoever wins has a fight on his hands for the general election.

Democrat Debbie Stabenow is a three-term incumbent, the first female senator in Michigan history and, according to an NBC/Marist poll, she enjoys a comfortable lead against whoever wins the GOP matchup: 55 percent to 37 percent against James, 52 percent to 37 percent against Pensler.

“She’s got 18 years of name recognition... And it looks like it will be a heavy female-driven campaign,” said Thomas Ivacko at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.

Arnold Weinfeld, the interim director for the institute for public policy and social research at Michigan State University, said Stabenow will get a lot of support from agriculture and manufacturing during the general election.

“Anyone would have a tough time against Stabenow,” he says.


Democrat Debbie Stabenow is a three-term incumbent.  (Official photo)

While the Trump endorsement carries weight in the primary, it may have less impact in the general election. Michigan is anything but a Republican stronghold.  Trump did win the Wolverine State, the first Republican to win it since George H.W. Bush  — but he only won it by 10,000 votes and there was a third-party candidate absorbing some of the votes. 

“Trump’s approval rating in Michigan has been tanking,” said Ivanko, adding “in the U.S. Senate, Democrats have dominated Michigan for a long time.” 

The James campaign admits Stabenow also has a significant cash advantage.

“We’re going to get it going,” said Stu Sandler, a consultant to the James campaign regarding fundraising. “We’re confident that when Michiganders learn more about John James, they’ll support him.  People are tired of Debbie Stabenow.”

There are few races that escape negative campaigning these days and the Republican primary in Michigan was not one of the few.  Still, after the ballots are counted, Pensler indicated the party will be able to heal and unify. 

“I don’t think John is going to be successful, but regardless, of course whoever wins, we want to beat Debbie Stabenow in the fall. I think it’s going to be me, I would certainly expect [James’] support and I think he would expect mine as well,” said Pensler.

Michael Tobin joined FOX News Channel (FNC) in 2001 and currently serves as a Chicago-based correspondent.