Walking the streets of Detroit’s working-class African American neighborhoods, Republican Senate candidate John James seems at home – maybe because he is. He can point out where his parents shopped for groceries, where his dad started a trucking company, which library he went to.
The Detroit native is a former U.S. Army pilot, Iraq War veteran, West Point grad and businessman. He’s young, good-looking, successful and eloquent.
James is trying to unseat incumbent Democrat Debbie Stabenow, who in 2012 captured 94 percent of the African American vote. The latest polling by a Republican firm puts James down 9 points against Stabenow, but some believe he has a good shot at cutting into Stabenow’s core voting bloc. In 2012, Stabenow received 94 percent of the African American vote.
Retired high school teacher Cheryl Wright admitted an African American Republican running for Senate is a sight she never thought she would see.
"There is a sense of pride. But if I vote for him – and I'm seriously considering it – it would not be because he's African-American American,” Wright said. “We have similar values."
James' sales pitch centers around attacking Stabenow's strength among African Americans.
"[She] has failed these neighborhoods," he said. "We need to make sure we have greater opportunities for early childhood development, K-12 development, to include skilled trades and vocational skills in school."
African American business leaders spoke to the same issues during a press conference at the trucking and logistics company his father started and James Jr. now runs. Donald Trump Jr., Vice President Pence and singer Kid Rock, a Michigan native, will be stumping for him.
He has been attacked for his pedigree – a Michigan Democrat tweeted that James just mooched off of his father, who mooched off of his father.
James has brushed off the criticism – saying his success is well earned.
“I’m a West Point grad and Iraq vet with two [master’s degrees]. My dad Vietnam vet and entrepreneur. His dad mason. His dad sharecropper. His dad slave,” he wrote on Twitter. “Mooching? My family never asked for free stuff, just a fair shot. We can’t allow the American dream to be crushed by you, Stabenow and socialism.”
Stabenow turned down Fox News’ requests for an interview but referred questions to Detroit NAACP chairman, the Rev. Wendell Anthony.
"I don't think you're going to find an overwhelming number of folk, African-Americans in particular, carrying the flag for John James," Anthony said. “John James has presented himself in a way that is somewhat militaristic and Trumpy-ish.”
President Trump won Michigan by roughly 10,000 votes, buoyed by the low voter turnout in urban, African American communities like this one. Democratic organizers said this time around, anger at Trump will push voters who live here to the polls.