Poll: Peters holds small lead over James in Michigan Senate race

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Peters holds a small lead over Republican challenger John James in the Michigan race, according to a new statewide poll, but they are in a virtually statistical dead heat in a race where the candidates have raised a combined $17.3 million.

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters

Peters, who is finishing his first term, is ahead of James 44% to 40% in a Glengariff Group poll of 600 likely Michigan voters that was provided to The Detroit News. About 16% of voters are undecided in a race that is expected to receive national attention since Peters is one of two senators running in states that President Donald Trump won in 2016.

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The close race is "fairly typical for a first-term senator running for re-election," said Richard Czuba, pollster and founder of Lansing-based Glengariff Group.

"It's always the most difficult re-election that a U.S. senator tends to get," Czuba said. "This is not unexpected."

Glengariff's poll marks the first survey taken this year in the contest. 

James, the Farmington Hills businessman and combat veteran, is making his second bid for the Senate after losing by a smaller-than-expected 6.5 percentage points to U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing, a longtime Democratic incumbent.

Peters of Bloomfield Township has raised $9.3 million since the beginning of last year compared with nearly $8 million for James, who out-raised Peters $3.5 million to $2.5 million in the last quarter of 2019.

John James

Czuba said both candidates have relatively low name identification — Peters is at 70% compared with James' 59% — but "there's a lot of room to grow for both of them."

Peters first won his seat in the U.S. Senate in 2014 with 54% of the vote, defeating Republican former Secretary of State Terry Lynn Land. In that GOP wave election when Republicans seized control of the Senate, Peters was the only non-incumbent Democratic to emerge victorious.

"Sen. Peters is focused on his work in the Senate delivering for Michigan, expanding job training, securing a record funding increase for the Great Lakes, and working to bring down health care and prescription drug costs," said Dan Farough, Peters' campaign manager. "He will run and win on his strong record of fighting for middle class families and working across party lines to get results."

The early poll results are terrific for James, said Stu Sandler, a longtime GOP consultant who worked on James' 2018 campaign and is involved with this one too.

"It's a statistical dead heat, and John is performing strong and he's doing well," Sandler said. "Voters are responding to him. We're not surprised by these numbers. We feel good about them. But we've got a long way to go."

Trump, whom James heartily embraced in his race against Stabenow, may play a role in the Senate race since he has a low favorability rating in Michigan, where Democrats have the voting registration advantage and are motivated to vote, Czuba said.

"The bottom line is this race is going to be caught in the national current," he said. "Whatever happens nationally or plays out in Michigan, is going to reflected in this U.S. Senate race. In 2020, we continue to look at a historic motivation to vote which means a lot of voters are turning out. And big turnout helps Democrats."


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Peters leads James

Michigan’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Peters holds a small lead over Republican challenger John James, according to a new poll.

Peters: 44%

James: 40%

Undecided: 16%

A Jan. 3-7 poll of 600 likely Michigan voters. Margin of error is plus-minus 4 percentage points.

Source: Glengariff Group