Jacques: Virus alters John James' launch strategy

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

Michigan Democrats and even some Republicans have been wondering where John James is these days. 

It turns out the U.S. Senate candidate hasn’t gone anywhere. He’s still traveling the state, meeting with GOP groups and also making time for pastors in Flint and Detroit. 

“We have been campaigning,” James says. “We are prioritizing listening. The time will come for cameras and politicking.” 

The coronavirus pandemic, however, is delaying the next stage of his campaign. 

James, an Army veteran and Detroit businessman, is taking a second stab at the office after losing to Sen. Debbie Stabenow in 2018 by 6.5 percentage points. He thinks he has a better shot against Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, who is seeking a second term. Peters has struggled with name identification among voters.

Senate candidate John James gives a thumbs up to President Donald Trump's supporters as he arrives at a rally for Trump at Kellogg Arena, in Battle Creek, Wednesday evening.

Yet it is true that James, 38, has kept a much lower profile this time around. Most of his events don’t entail the media, and he’s done limited TV and print interviews in Michigan. 

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

More:Jacques: Watch out for John James in 2020

That’s led to the state Democratic Party accusing him of “hiding” from voters, with a daily tally of how long it’s been since he made such an appearance. 

“I’ve done this before, and I’m not going to be baited,” James says. “I’m campaigning in places that Democrats aren’t.” 

James was gearing up to take his campaign to the next level with a large rally planned for later in the month. But the COVID-19 outbreak — now a state and national emergency — has postponed the event. 

“I need to take care of my people,” James says. “We have plenty of time for politics.” 

He says the virus will make campaigning in person more difficult, but as he proved in his first run, he knows how to reach his supporters in other ways. James has a large social media following, and he’s prepared to take his message directly to the people — whether through videos or other means. 

James has also held off on TV ads, unlike his opponent. Peters has already spent $1.4 million on TV ads, and has gotten millions more in advertising support from outside groups, such as several run by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

That indicates the Democrats are taking this race seriously. 

Both parties view this seat as a key win in November. The National Republican Senatorial Committee has deemed it one of the top five most competitive races, and Michigan is one of two states that provide the chance to flip a Democratic seat in states President Donald Trump won in 2016.

The money is pouring in for James and Peters, with James outraising Peters by $1 million in the last quarter of 2019. And unlike Peters, James is OK with waiting a while to start spending in force. 

Polls are pointing to a close race. The RealClearPolitics average has Peters up by 5 points. Michigan pollster Steve Mitchell says that makes it a competitive race, especially given the fact Trump will appear on the ballot along with James. And this will be an election with high base turnout. 

James thinks those polling numbers are encouraging. But he’s not complacent. He’s planning to do what it takes to win. 

As he says, “We are going to become more vocal and visual, and those numbers will increase.” 

Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques