Jacques: Will GOP rally to oust Stabenow?

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

Now that former Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bob Young is out of the race to oust U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, is the GOP ready to rally around one of the remaining candidates?

Detroit businessman and former Army captain John James is one of three left in the race to unseat the longtime Democrat. Republicans Sandy Pensler and Bob Carr are also running.

James has an impressive resume, and what he lacks in political experience, he makes up for with enthusiasm. James, 36, is working hard to get the word out about his campaign, both statewide and nationally.

And like Young, James is black, bringing some much-needed diversity to the GOP party.

He’s also attracting wide support within the Republican universe; expect James to make a big public splash this weekend as he expands his network of high-profile fans.

Young wasn’t able to garner the excitement nor the financial support he needed, despite the fact he’d been elected to the high court three times. Young also says he made the choice at this time to help build consensus around another candidate.

Stu Sandler, a GOP strategist who’s working on James’ campaign, is confident the financial assistance is forthcoming. With Young out, James is likely to see a boost.

“It makes fundraising easier,” Sandler says. “Donors are more likely to give to John now.”

Although Young felt he was connecting with voters on the grassroots level, large GOP donors never got on board.

“Major donors weren’t buying it,” Young says. “The decision was straightforward. It was simply dictated by political reality.”

At the end of the third quarter, campaign reports show Young had only $102,000 in the bank. James is also struggling but doing a bit better with $216,200 on hand. Compare that with Stabenow, who has nearly $7 million.

“The national GOP and outside PACs can make up the rest, but whoever the Republican nominee is will need at least $3 million in their own campaign to even get taken seriously,” says Michigan GOP consultant Dennis Lennox.

That’s making a race Republicans appeared enthusiastic about only months ago seem like a long shot. Donors are uncertain about the prospects of unseating Stabenow and fear their contributions would be a waste of money.

“You can’t ever take out an incumbent without making a good case for it,” Young says. “A lot of the well-heeled folks just despair that you can actually take it on.”

That’s likely why Rep. Fred Upton of St. Joseph chose to stay out of this race, which he’d considered seriously. Many party insiders thought he was going to go for it before he announced late last year he’d seek re-election to Congress.

Upton’s waffling was an excuse for donors to hold off their support.

But Young acknowledges other aspects of the race that made it unusual. For instance, rumors over the summer that rock star Kid Rock would jump in (fueled in large part by the musician himself) were a distraction.

“There’s a certain amount of oddity,” Young says. “It’s very swirly out there.”

Compound that with a deeply divided Republican Party, and it makes for a complicated campaign landscape. Young has said he supports President Trump (so does James), but he recognizes the challenges of his presidency.

“He’s the most unpredictable president ever in our lifetime,” Young observes. “It’s like traversing quicksand.”

Young is not giving up hope that Republicans can win the seat — and neither should the GOP.

John James is positioning himself as a candidate who can open the wallets of Republican donors both in Michigan and nationwide.

“John is really catching on,” Sandler says. “He has such a great story and is such a good candidate.”