Jacques: Watch out for John James in 2020

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News
Republican Senate candidate John James blows a kiss to his supporters at his primary election night party at James Group International in Detroit on Aug. 7.

John James is heading into the 2020 U.S. Senate race ready for battle, to use the candidate’s military-flavored lingo. 

The Detroit businessman and combat veteran is making another bid for the office, after losing last November to Sen. Debbie Stabenow in a tighter than expected race. 

When James, 38, looks at the direction the country’s headed, he says he feels compelled to cut through the political division. 

“I’m willing to step up and try,” says James. “Passion is something you can’t fake.” 

And he’s brimming with it.

When I spoke with James in September 2017 as he launched his initial campaign, he said he "liked his chances a lot.” 

Two years later, after earning statewide and national attention, leading Republicans also like his chances. 

Michigan GOP chairwoman Laura Cox and Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel speak highly of James, knowing he brings a much-needed shot of youth and diversity to the party. They are ready to put resources behind him, since James doesn’t yet face a costly primary, as he did in 2018. 

The Michigan Senate seat is one of the top five most competitive races, according to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, as the GOP seeks to hold on to its 53-47 majority. 

Nathan Brand, spokesman for the NRSC, says the other hot spots are Alabama, Arizona, North Carolina and Colorado. Michigan and Alabama offer the potential to flip Democratic seats in states President Donald Trump won in 2016. 

Brand highlights Sen. Gary Peters’ struggles with name identification among voters. Peters, who seeks a second term, “hasn’t accomplished anything for Michigan,” Brand says. 

Peters is listed by Morning Consult as a “vulnerable senator,” and he has the widest margin among the at-risk senators — at 40% — of voters who don’t have any opinion about him at all. 

Brand also points to what James brings to the table. 

“John James is very compelling, and he has an incredible story to tell,” he says. “People are super hyped about him — he’s a hit.” 

James says he’ll take what he learned in the first campaign and build off what worked. Although he says it would be easier for him to sit this election out, he’s not interested in giving up. James and his wife, Elizabeth, have three young children, plus he’s still running his family’s transportation and warehousing business. 

“The Republicans can be better, and the Democratic Party can be better,” James says. “I endeavor to be the change I want to see, and that’s very exciting.”

James is already pulling in sizable donations. In the first three weeks after his June announcement, James raised $1.5 million. Among his nearly 12,000 donors, 71% of contributions were $50 or less, pointing to the strength of his grassroots appeal. 

James is also a draw at the polls, garnering an impressive number of votes in 2018 for a first-time candidate: 1,938,818 — about 230,000 more than Peters received in 2014. 

The election forecasting site FiveThirtyEight calls James “a strong recruit,” pointing to how his loss to Stabenow by 6.5 percentage points beat the predictions he’d lose by at least 13 points. 

His supporters believe James has a much stronger shot at beating Peters, and James maintains he’s up for the challenge. 

“Michigan is worth it,” he says. “This country is worth it.”