GOP Senate challengers post low fund-raising totals

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The two declared Republican U.S. Senate challengers in Michigan reported relatively weak fundraising totals last quarter, placing longtime Rep. Fred Upton well ahead in the money race should he enter the field.

John James and Robert P. Young, Jr.

Businessman John James of Farmington Hills brought in nearly two times as much money as retired Supreme Court Justice Bob Young Jr. of Laingsburg for the period ending Sept. 30, reporting about $309,150 in receipts to Young’s $156,000.

James has $216,200 in the bank and Young $102,000, according to campaign finance reports, while U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, has nearly $7 million.

“Those aren’t fundraising numbers that will make them competitive against Debbie Stabenow,” said Dave Dulio, who chairs the political science department at Oakland University. “They need to step up their fundraising if they are going to be serious challengers.”

Kyle Kondik at the University of Virginia Center for Politics said the figures sounded more like fundraising for U.S. House candidates.

“This is one of the races that national Republicans are hoping to put on the board, but the early returns from the declared candidates aren’t particularly promising,” said Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball newsletter, which rates the race as “likely” Democratic.

Known as a formidable fundraiser, Stabenow took in more than $1.7 million last quarter. She is among 10 Democrats running for re-election in states won by President Donald Trump last fall, leading some Republicans to believe she is vulnerable next year.

Trump narrowly took Michigan, but Stabenow handily beat back challengers in 2012 and 2006.

Analysts said potential GOP donors might be hesitant to open their checkbooks until they have a better feel for what the full Republican field will look like.

Upton, who has been in Congress since 1987, has relationships with many of those donors, who are waiting to see what he will do.

Rep. Fred Upton

The St. Joseph congressman is still “strongly” considering a Senate bid and is planning to announce a decision in the next couple months, a spokesman said Thursday.

Upton reported $1.1 million in the bank after raising $526,600 in the three-month period.

Stabenow challengers Pete Hoekstra raised $1 million in his first fundraising period in 2011, and Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard raised $790,700 during his first period in 2005.

Clarkston entertainer Robert Ritchie, known as Kid Rock, has flirted with a Senate run, but chatter about his political ambitions has died down in recent weeks. Sandy Pensler, a Grosse Pointe businessman, also says he might get into the race.

The cost of U.S. Senate and House races has ballooned in recent years, largely due to an influx of outside spending.

The 2014 Senate race between Democrat Gary Peters and Republican Terri Lynn Land was the most expensive in Michigan history, nearly topping $60 million, said Craig Mauger of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

“If this is a competitive race, the expectation is this will look more like 2016,” Mauger said.

The most expensive Senate race in the nation last year was in Pennsylvania, where the candidates spent $47 million and outside groups $120 million, Mauger said.

“This might be a really expensive race next year or it may not be,” Kondik said. “The race has not unfolded in a way so far that it’s a tossup. Could it be? Sure. But we’re not there yet. The GOP field right now is defined more by who’s considering running than by who’s running.”

James’ campaign warned not to count him out, saying the Iraq veteran is a “conservative outsider” who can beat Stabenow.

“The more people get to know John James, the more support he will get,” campaign manager Tori Sachs said in a statement. “The pundits will try and protect incumbents beholden to special interests. But the John James campaign is growing momentum every day.”

The Young campaign said it's too soon to make judgments based on fundraising totals a year from the election. Young has the endorsements of former Gov. John Engler and state Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekoff, West Olive.

"Ultimately, the voters will have the final say, not some ivory tower analysts and professional political prognosticators," campaign manager Bryan Posthumus said by email.

"At the end of the day, we are confident we will have the resources to not only win the primary, but demonstrate to the voters of Michigan why Debbie Stabenow has been an abject failure to the middle class."

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