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Republican Senate and House leaders are both wooing Michigan businessman John James to run for Congress a second time, prompting his potential Democratic opponents to fundraise off the buzz around his possible candidacy. 

James, 37, of Farmington Hills, performed better than expected last year in his unsuccessful challenge to U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, fueling speculation that he's not done with politics. James lost to Stabenow by 6.5 percentage points. 

James, an Iraq veteran, is being recruited by both GOP campaign arms. He spoke this month with Indiana Sen. Todd Young, who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and met with Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer, who chairs the National Republican Congressional Committee, aides said. 

Depending on what side of the Capitol they're on, GOP officials hope James will decide to run against U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, or freshman Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Rochester Hills, in Michigan's 11th District. 

Both Peters and Stevens' campaigns have issued fundraising appeals in recent weeks citing James' as a potential challenger. 

The NRSC last week released a memo to the Washington Post making the case that a statewide run by James for Senate would be a boon to Trump's reelection bid in Michigan by potentially turning out more GOP voters in Metro Detroit counties. 

“The president and John James can be like thunder and lightning,” an NRSC official told the Post. “The president blows out northern Michigan by an unprecedented margin — he crushes it. And John James, his bread and butter is the south.”

The Post story followed a report in POLITICO citing concerns by unnamed Trump aides that James running statewide could harm Trump's chances of winning Michigan again by driving up Democratic spending and turnout in the state. 

Trump won Michigan in 2016 by 10,704 votes, but statewide polling has since shown the president's approval ratings underwater.

A statewide poll in January for The Detroit News and WDIV-TV found 53 percent of likely Michigan voters would vote for "someone new" in the 2020 election, compared with 23 percent would "definitely" vote to re-elect Trump.

The NRSC memo notes that James received nearly 79,300 more votes than GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Schuette last fall, making the Stabenow-James Senate race closer than the governor's race.

The memo also highlights that James received about 648,600 more votes in 2018 than Peters' opponent Terri Lynn Land did in 2014. Peters defeated Land by 13 percentage points. 

Complaint dropped on Dem group

The Federal Election Commission has dropped a campaign finance complaint against a dark money Democratic group that used anonymous money to influence the 2018 Macomb County Clerk’s race.

Former state Sen. Steve Bieda had filed the complaint against the Philip A. Hart Democratic Club, alleging the group did not properly disclose spending on “political materials” to support Fred Miller. who narrowly defeated Bieda in the August primary and went on to replace ousted Clerk Karen Spranger.

The FEC did not rule on the merits of the complaint from Bieda, who previously called the Hart group “a secret slush fund that masquerades as a Democratic club.” Instead, in an April 16 report, FEC general counsel called the local race case a “low priority” for the federal agency and recommended dismissal.

The commission has “prosecutorial discretion to determine the proper ordering of its priorities and use of agency resources,” attorneys said in the dismissal recommentation report.

The Phil Hart Club was one of two dark money Democratic groups that also contributed significant sums to a federal fund that ran ads supporting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in the 2018 primary. The club gave $250,000 to Build a Better Michigan in June of that year but did not disclose the spending to any state or federal agency.

mburke@detroitnews.com

joosting@detroitnews.com

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