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Republican U.S. Senate candidate John James said Saturday that his stance on President Donald Trump hadn't changed and alleged someone leaked audio of him detailing disagreements with the president to "drive a wedge."

"I’ve been saying the same thing for years," James said in an interview. "I just think that people are actually paying attention now."

“This race is not about the president," the Farmington Hills businessman added later. "This race is about Michigan.”

James is running for one of Michigan's two U.S. Senate seats this year after losing to U.S Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, by 6.5% of the vote in 2018.

He hopes to unseat U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, and he's raised more money than the incumbent for three straight fundraising quarters.

On Saturday, Politico published comments James made during a recent video conference with black community leaders.  According to the national news outlet, James was asked about issues on which he disagreed with Trump, who has backed his campaign.

“Plenty, plenty of issues,” James said, according to Politico. “Everything from cutting Great Lakes funding to ‘shithole countries’ to speaking ill of the dead."

Politico reported that the "speaking ill of the dead" comment apparently referred to Trump's negative remarks about the late Sen. John McCain.

During the 2018 campaign, James said he supported Trump's agenda "2,000 percent."

Asked if his feelings on the president's performance had changed, James said he's been making the same comments about being able to disagree with Trump for "years." He noted a 2018 BuzzFeed article, where he said he could "disagree with the president without attacking him."

“When the president is right on what he’s doing for Michigan, I’ll support him," James said Saturday. "And when I disagree with him, I will let him know. It benefits the state of Michigan to have that perspective and that voice.”

He continued, "The fact that this was leaked with the intent to hurt me just shows that there’s some folks in Washington that are so out of touch with a Michigan that’s desperate for experienced leadership and fair representation."

The Michigan Democratic Party said in a statement Saturday that the Politico report caught James "changing his tone on President Trump."

"A failed politician who says one thing in public and another behind closed doors will continue to be failed politician," said Elena Kuhn, spokeswoman for the Michigan Democratic Party.

Trump won Michigan by 10,704 votes in 2016, becoming the first GOP nominee to carry the state since 1988. The state is poised to be a key battleground as the president seeks re-election.

cmauger@detroitnews.com

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