No Senate debate in sight as Peters, James fight about debating

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Bloomfield Township — The debate about the lack of debates in Michigan's U.S. Senate race continued Monday with both Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and Republican opponent John James saying they want to contrast their views before the public.

But no debate has been scheduled with two weeks to go before the Nov. 3 election.

Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, said during a news briefing after he cast his ballot at the township hall that he agreed to two debates similar to when James ran unsuccessfully against U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, two years ago, with one in Grand Rapids and another in Detroit.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township (right), talks at an Oct. 16, 2020 "Go Vote with Gary" event in downtown Grand Rapids.

"I would love to debate Mr. James. I would truly love that," Peters said. "It's basically the two debates that have been conducted in Senate races since the 1990s. I agreed in July and haven't heard anything from Mr. James."

Peters added, "Basically Mr. James wants to just debate debates because clearly he can't defend his positions which were already rejected by Michigan voters two years ago."

James, a Farmington Hills businessman and Iraq War veteran, wasn't available Monday for an interview. But James campaign spokeswoman Abby Walls said Peters "has turned down every single debate he has been offered except the two that he accepted."

"Hasn't come to the negotiating table, hasn't tried to work anything out, he's just turned them down," she said. "He doesn't want to debate. If he wanted to debate, then he would be accepting offers from the very same television stations he sees fit to run his attack ads on."

Peters didn't have a debate in his first race in 2014 against Republican rival Terri Lynn Land that determined who would replace longtime U.S. Carl Levin, D-Detroit. Stabenow did not debate Republican Pete Hoekstra in the 2012 campaign.

Peters and James also have sparred on health care.

The James campaign has criticized Peters for not buying an Affordable Care Act exchange health plan after he said he would in December 2013. The incumbent has a health plan that is open only to the state's former state legislators known as the Michigan Legislative Retirement Health Program, according to Peters' disclosure reports. 

The senator has attacked James for advocating the repeal of the federal health care law. 

Walls said Peters "has been attacking John since the beginning of this campaign about his desire to make improvements and changes to the ACA while he has never been on a plan that has been beholden to its limitations."

When asked at Monday's briefing about James' criticism of his health plan situation, Peters did not answer.

"I don't know what he's talking about, which is pretty typical when I hear Mr. James," Peters said. "Basically his whole campaign is one of negative, false attacks, false accusations. What we have to be focused on is that we have to make sure we're protecting the Affordable Care Act, we're strengthening the Affordable Care Act."

Peters' staff told The Detroit News in 2013 that he signed up for a health plan through the Affordable Care Act exchange in 2013.

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