James, Stabenow clash in second Senate debate

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Detroit — Republican challenger John James and U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow clashed Monday in their final debate, with the businessman attacking the incumbent as "ineffective" while she lectured him for lacking specifics and experience.

U.S. Sen Debbie Stabenow,  speaks while her Republican challenger John James waits for his turn during their debate Monday before the Detroit Economic Club in 2018.

Stabenow and James tackled a litany of issues before the Detroit Economic Club such as immigration, health care reform, infrastructure and the controversial Senate confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during their hour-long debate at the Motor City Casino and Hotel ballroom.

Just like Sunday in Grand Rapids at their first fracas, James kept on the offensive by repeating his phrase "What took you so long?" when challenging the senator on why she hadn't dealt swiftly with issues such as immigration, pharmaceutical costs and infrastructure.

After the debate, Stabenow said that while she respects James' service to the country as a military veteran, "anybody can talk about the problems. ... The question is, who's got the capacity to actually get things done, the knowledge? The bottom line is I know how to get results and I do it."

Republican John James,  a Farmington Hills businessman and Iraq veteran, makes a point during the debate.

The problem is "it's very hard to start every comment with, 'He didn't tell the truth," said Stabenow, the 66-year-old Lansing Democrat. "The people in Michigan know me. The people in that room have worked with me. The health care leaders. The business leaders. The leaders in every area of the community. ... I understand politics and when someone doesn't have a lot to say, they just attack the other side."

It will be up to the voters to decide how well he made his point, James said, adding that he wanted to "contrast my experience in the toughest situations from being in battle" to his perceptions of not accomplishing much in Washington.

"She says she represents Michigan but by the numbers, she doesn't," said James, 37, adding that Michigan needs an "independent thinker" and party balance since both of the state's senators are Democrats.

"She represents the interests of people who she agrees with and she toes the party line and the data shows that. She will say anything to get re-elected. We need to stay awake and recognize this."

Monday's forum  drew the economic club's largest debate audience, club officials said. Both Stabenow and James received more than polite applause for their various points.

The candidates clashed on President Donald Trump's nomination of Kavanaugh as Stabenow rejected the choice as not good for Michigan while James supported Kavanaugh as a "fair jurist" who could be impartial.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow answers a question during the debate Monday at the Detroit Economic Club.

James said we don't need to have "activists on the bench who can change in courts based upon the whims of the people, quite frankly." Stabenow said she voted no "because of the decisions he had made" and that she looked "deeply at his record."

On curbing the country's debt and balancing the budget, James attacked Stabenow for doing little to trim the country's $21.5 trillion debt. "Why should we believe you now?" he said.

Stabenow responded that when she chaired the Senate Agriculture Committee, it cut costs and that the country could follow its lead.

James has trailed Stabenow by double digits in both early September and early October polling done for The Detroit News and WDIV. 

To end the debate, the two clashed on another emotional but less consequential issue: Saturday's Michigan-Michigan State football game in East Lansing.

Stabenow indicated she will "Go Green!" while James, who got a master's degree at the University of Michigan," was an emphatic "Go Blue!"


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