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Republican U.S. Senate challenger John James joins President Trump at Michigan rally

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Freeland — John James, the Republican candidate locked in a heated race for the U.S. Senate in Michigan, gave a fiery speech Thursday at President Donald Trump's rally in Freeland.

James, who has previously been criticized by Democrats for his support of Trump, touted the president's economic policies and slammed his opponent, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate John James draws applause from the crowd at President Donald Trump's rally in Freeland on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020.

The election is about more than just flipping a Senate seat, James said. It's also about "flipping the narrative," he said.

"We are content with calling ourselves the silent majority. It's wrong. And no more. Why are we quiet?" James said, drawing big applause from the crowd.

James, a businessman from Farmington Hills, and Peters are in a competitive race this fall. The Trump rally Thursday came 54 days before the Nov. 3 election. Peters, who was first elected in 2014, is one of two Democratic incumbent senators on the ballot in states that Trump won in 2016.

Peters leads James 44%-41%, according to a poll released Tuesday by The Detroit News and WDIV. Just over 14% remained undecided in the Sept. 1-3 poll of 600 likely Michigan voters by the Glengariff Group. The margin of error was 4 percentage points.

Democrats sponsored a billboard truck that was driving around near the rally with the message: "Just like Trump, John James broke his promises to Michigan."

"From standing with Trump ‘2,000%’ even as he fails Michigan to taking a page out of the Trump playbook to rip off taxpayers — one thing is clear, Michiganders simply can’t trust John James to keep his promises,” said Elena Kuhn, spokeswoman for the Michigan Democratic Party.

Democrats have repeatedly blasted James for saying in 2018 that he supported Trump's agenda "2,000%."

"We can’t afford another rubber stamp for Trump & McConnell's agenda," Peters tweeted Thursday night, referring to GOP U.S. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. "Michigan is a critical swing state and we need to win."

James ran two years ago against U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, losing by a smaller-than-expected margin of 6.5 percentage points.

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

John James, US Senate candidate, gives a speech prior to the start of the rally. President Donald Trump makes a campaign stop at an airplane hangar in Freeland, Michigan on Thursday, September 10, 2020.

James has said his 2020 race isn't about Trump. His campaign wouldn't confirm earlier Thursday whether he would be speaking at the night's rally.

But James drew applause from the crowd as he entered the venue. During his remarks, which lasted about 20 minutes, he credited Trump for holding China accountable and bringing jobs back from Mexico.

Trump has lost billions of dollars trying to serve the country but Peters' personal wealth has grown while serving in office, James said. Peters was in the U.S. House before being elected to the Senate.

James referenced Democrats' efforts to get Trump to release his tax returns and said he wanted to see returns from Peters.

cmauger@detroitnews.com