Pensler, James set to square off in Republican U.S. Senate debate
East Lansing — Republican businessmen John James and Sandy Pensler are set to intensify their increasingly contentious U.S. Senate battle when they face off Friday in the only scheduled televised debate of the primary season.
The debate, being taped as part of a special "Off the Record" television broadcast at WKAR, will be livestreamed. The debate will last for the normal 30-minute show and have a 10-minute "overtime session."
The two hopefuls have attacked each other on contentious social issues to try to gain an edge as the most conservative candidate in a GOP Aug. 7 primary that will determine who faces U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, in November. President Donald Trump has not endorsed anyone in the primary race.
One of the biggest issues the two have faced revolves around their stance on abortion rights.
James, of Farmington Hills, has highlighted his endorsement from Right to Life. Critics of Pensler have pointed to a 25-year-old newspaper story describing him as a “pro-choice” Republican when he ran for the U.S. House in Michigan’s 8th District. The James campaign also has hit Pensler for donating to pro-choice Democrats, such as former Congressman Bob Carr of East Lansing.
Pensler’s Senate campaign has said his position on abortion “evolved as he had a family and kids,” and that he now supports overturning Roe v. Wade — the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that guaranteed a woman’s right to choose to end a pregnancy.
Pensler’s campaign website says: “I am pro-life. My wife and I think abortion is wrong.”
The Grosse Pointe financier has also focused in recent weeks on criticizing James for giving a political donation to Detroit City Council member Raquel Castaneda-Lopez, who supports sanctuary cities.
"Well, he's only made one political contribution in his life, and that was to a Detroit city councilwoman who is the strongest support for sanctuary cities in the city of Detroit," Pensler spokesman Tom Shields said.
Tori Sachs, James’ campaign manager, said Pensler is “lying about John’s record," noting that James is on record as opposing sanctuary cities.
The issue was enflamed earlier this week when the James campaign revealed a mailer was mistakenly sent out to a large sample of Republican primary voters saying James would "defend" — instead of defund — sanctuary cities. The printing firm put out a statement through the James campaign admitting the error.
Stabenow, who is seeking a fourth term, had about $8.8 million cash on hand at the end of March — more than Pensler and James combined.
James had $1.19 million in cash at the end of the period, while Pensler had nearly $3.98 million in cash reserves after loaning his campaign $5 million last year. He has raised a small fraction of his campaign war chest from individual donors.
The "no rules format" debate is being hosted by senior correspondent Tim Skubick. It may be the only debate of the primary season between the two since the James campaign has complained that Pensler won't agree to any other face-offs.