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The Republican Senate's campaign arm marked last week’s Democratic presidential debate by paying for a local billboard attacking Democrat “Jerry Peters” over the Green New Deal.

It was the latest punch line in an increasingly expensive joke targeting Sen. Gary Peters over polls that indicate he is starting his re-election campaign with relatively low voter identification numbers.

The billboard mistake was intentional, National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Nate Brand told The Detroit News: “Despite his long career as a politician, Peters is the most unknown senator in the country.”

The committee appeared to be playing off a running gag from from the NBC comedy "Parks and Rec," in which co-workers often call the character Jerry Gergich, a lovable goofball, by other names including Garry, Larry and Terry. The show last aired in 2015.

A January survey of 600 likely voters found that nearly 63 percent of voters recognize Peters, while about 36 percent had never heard of the Bloomfield Township Democrat.

Still, the GOP joke caused confusion online. 

"If the NRSC wants to keep wasting their money on false attacks and dumb stunts like this, we're not going to stop them," said Michigan Democratic Party spokesman Alex Japko said in an email. "No one even understands what they're talking about." 

The billboard, posted near I-94 in Dearborn, lumped Peters in with Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, favorites of the progressive left who support the idea of a Green New Deal that would toughen environmental rules and reshape the economy to fight climate change.

Peters said in April that he supports “aspects” of the Green New Deal but has not backed a non-binding congressional resolution, saying he saying he is focused on “specific pieces of legislation that actually move us down the road.”

Upton retirement rumors persist

Twice in the last month, the New York Times has reported on speculation that longtime Michigan Republican Rep. Fred Upton plans to retire from Congress at the end of his term.

The rumors are fueled in part by some high-profile votes in which Upton has broken with President Donald Trump, including a "yes" on last month's resolution condemning as "racist" Trump’s tweets that urged four Democratic congresswomen of color to return to their countries. 

The latest Times report came after a rush of retirement announcements by other GOP House members, including sophomore Rep. Paul Mitchell of Dryden. 

"We corrected the New York Times story," Upton told The Detroit News in late July. "I've got a fundraiser tomorrow. We've not made any decisions to step down." 

A former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Upton, 66, has served in the House since since 1987 and won reelection last fall by his narrowest margin yet, defeating Democrat Matt Longjohn by 4.6 percentage points. 

Thanks to the Times, Upton's staffers again spent recent days batting back rumors after a Friday report that Upton might be on his way out. 

"It’s still early in the 2020 cycle, and Rep. Fred Upton has made no announcements," spokesman Josh Paciorek said Monday. "But he is checking all the boxes he needs to in order to run for reelection."

Upton is fundraising as if he were running for reelection, hauling in $684,555 this year through June 30 and reporting $506,873 in the bank. That total exceeded his receipts for the same six-month period in last cycle — roughly $559,000 in the first half of 2017.

Peters takes to the road 

Peters, who is running for a second term, on Monday launched his fourth annual motorcycle tour across Michigan at an event in Farmington Hills.

From there, Peters rode with fellow riders to Flint, where he visited Mott Community College to hold a round table discussion on promoting apprenticeship opportunities and toured Mott's Regional Technology Center.

“One of my first jobs growing up was riding my bicycle around my neighborhood to deliver newspapers. From that point, I knew I had a passion for riding — and nothing beats going across Michigan on my motorcycle,” Peters said in a statement.

Over the five-day tour, Peters is expected to make stops in Escanaba, Marquette County, Traverse City, Grand Rapids and Grand Ledge. 

Trump helps James raise cash

Peters is facing a solid GOP challenger in Farmington Hills businessman John James, who also ran for Senate in 2018 but lost to Democratic incumbent Sen. Debbie Stabenow by 6.5 percentage points.

James got a boost last week from President Donald Trump, who put his name on a fundraising email calling the military veteran “an absolute fighter” who is “holding the line in Michigan against radical Democrats.”

“John James is a star,” Trump said in fundraising pitch. “That’s why I FULLY and TOTALLY support him in his campaign for Senate.”

The Michigan Democratic Party blasted the fundraising email, suggesting James had tried to “erase” his past support for Trump when his campaign deleted hundreds of videos after the 2018 election.  

“The fact that James is begging Trump to raise money for him proves he’s the same exact candidate Michigan voters overwhelmingly rejected less than a year ago,” Japko said in a statement. “James still supports Trump 2000% and no matter how hard he tries, he can never erase that.” 

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