John James fires up GOP base with underdog Michigan Senate bid, as polls tighten

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Beto O’Rourke are getting huge attention on the Democratic side for their energetic midterm bids, representing for many the future face of the party.

But Republicans are seeing a similar phenomenon over in Michigan, where Senate candidate John James has electrified voters even as he faces an uphill climb against incumbent Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow.

Like O’Rourke, James remains the underdog in that race. Yet the polls appear to be tightening and, win or lose, the 37-year-old Iraq War veteran and Detroit-area businessman — and the first black Republican to run for statewide election in Michigan in four decades — seems to have a bright future in politics.

“He’s a star, an absolute star,” Jake Davison, the editor of Inside Michigan Politics, told Fox News, even as he downplayed the Republican’s chances. “He has the base really fired up.”

James is not just firing up Republican voters in Michigan, but – thanks in large part to his platform of strong borders, national security and Trump-style trade and tariff policies – he has earned the backing of the president.

Earlier this year, Trump tweeted that James is “SPECTACULAR. Rarely have I seen a candidate with such great potential.” He added that James is “strong on crime and borders, loves our Military, our Vets and our Second Amendment.”

James was joined on stage at a rally earlier this month by Donald Trump Jr. and Michigan-born rocker Kid Rock, and has seen Vice President Pence make the rounds to stump for him in hopes of upsetting Stabenow.

James has attracted mounting attention ever since defeating financier Sandy Pensler in the state’s Republican primary back in August.

But the odds remain in Stabenow’s favor. The Real Clear Politics average of polls shows her holding a commanding 11-point advantage. Stabenow has outpaced James in terms of fundraising – though his campaign announced on Tuesday it had raised $2 million in the last two-and-a-half weeks.

The Michigan Democratic Party also has consistently tried to use James’ alliance with Trump against him, warning he’d be a rubber stamp for the president’s agenda.

The Trump factor is a wild card in Michigan, a state the president won in 2016 by a razor-thin margin.

James’ campaign maintains that they’ve got the momentum — and the race could be tightening. A new EPIC-MRA poll shows James down by just 7 points, and a recent poll by Mitchell Research shows Stabenow holding a 9-point lead over James, amid others reflecting a double-digit gap.

“John James is giving 43-year politician Debbie Stabenow the fight of her political life and there is zero question she’ll be running scared these final days,” Tori Sachs, James’ campaign manager, told Fox News in a statement.

Much of James’ appeal stems from the fact that he is a conservative African-American in a state where the Democratic Party has had a lock on that voting bloc for decades.

“James obviously has a compelling life story even though he’s a young man with his Iraq War experience and his businessman background and the fact that he was from a Democratic family and has become a Republican and a conservative,” Bill Ballenger, a political historian and former GOP legislator based in Lansing, told the Detroit News. “It at least would be a good move in the right direction for the Republican Party to have an African-American nominee as a major statewide candidate for a major office.”

James has downplayed the racial aspect, though.

“I believe in a red, white and blue message — not a white or black message, and that’s why my message is resonating,” the candidate told Fox News’ “The Ingraham Angle” on Wednesday. “We need to push past the identity politics.”

Despite the attention on his campaign, James faces a tough battle to unseat Stabenow, a three-term Democratic powerhouse.

“[James] has no chance of beating Debbie Stabenow,” Davison said. “She just doesn’t make any mistakes and that is why she wins. She is a machine.”

That said, Davison described the race as a win-win for James: “He will be successful in politics whether or not he wins. … He’s already built up his base and has made inroads with the party. This guy could be king if he wants to.”

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