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Gary Peters vs. John James Michigan Senate: polls, fundraising

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  • Republican John James is challenging Democratic Sen. Gary Peters for US Senate in Michigan.
  • For Democrats, ensuring that Peters keeps his seat will be key to winning back the Senate majority as they play offense to defeat Republicans in several other states.
  • James previously unsuccessfully challenged Sen. Debbie Stabenow in 2018. Still, his compelling background and fundraising talent make him one of the strongest GOP recruits this cycle.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Republican John James is challenging Democratic Sen. Gary Peters for US Senate in Michigan.

The candidates

Peters, a former US House Representative from the Detroit area, was first elected to the US Senate in 2014 and is seeking a second term.

Peters is one of the more understated and low-key members of the Democratic caucus, but holds powerful posts as the ranking member of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

He’s rated as one of the most bipartisan members of the Senate by Georgetown University’s Lugar Center and has emphasized his record of working behind the scenes on Capitol Hill to secure concrete achievements on the campaign trail.

James, a US Army veteran who served as an aviation officer in Iraq and has more recently worked in economic development, is running for Senate in Michigan for the second time in 2020. He challenged Michigan’s senior Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow in 2018 and lost by 6.5 points, 52.3% to 45.8%.

As a Republican running in a state that President Donald Trump only won by a margin of 0.3 percentage points in 2016, James has struck a delicate balance between emphasizing his conservative bonafides while creating some distance between his bid for office and Trump, mainly framing himself as part of an up-and-coming generation of Republican leaders. 

As James lost the 2018 Senate race to Stabenow, Michigan elected Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and several other statewide Democratic officials and flipped two suburban US House seats, the 8th and 11th Congressional Districts, from Republican to Democratic control. 

The stakes

In addition to winning back the White House, regaining control of the US Senate for the first time since 2015 is a top priority for Democrats, and would be a major accomplishment towards either delivering on a future president Joe Biden’s policy goals or thwarting Trump’s second-term agenda.

Currently, the US Senate is made up of 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and two independents that caucus with Democrats. The Democrats need to win back a net total of four seats to have a 51-seat majority (if Biden wins, his vice president would also serve as president of the Senate and would be a tie-breaker vote). 

Peters, along with Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, is one of just two Senate Democrats running for re-election in a state that Trump won in 2016. 

James’ compelling background, fundraising talent, and campaign charisma make him one of the strongest GOP recruits this cycle. But as in 2018, he’ll face an uphill battle overcoming the national trends favoring Democrats. In 2020, he will have to contend with Trump — who is currently receiving dismal marks from Michigan voters on his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic — running at the top of the ticket. 

For Democrats, ensuring that Peters keeps his seat will be key to winning back the Senate majority as they play offense to defeat Republicans in several other states and attempt to win back the key swing state of Michigan in the electoral college. Democratic nominee Joe Biden currently leads Trump by 7.6 points in Michigan on average, according to FiveThirtyEight.

The money race

James has been an extremely competitive fundraiser, bringing in just over $20 million so far this cycle compared to $21 million for Peters and had narrowly outspent Peters as of the second quarter, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. 

In 2020’s third fundraising quarter, Peters brought in $14.6 million compared to $14.4 million for James. Peters slightly outraised his Republican opponent, but James enters the final sprint to November 3 with $8.7 million in cash on hand, far more than Peters’ $3.5 million. 

What the polling says

For most of the year, Peters led James by comfortable margins in almost all the polls conducted in 2020, but some recent surveys have shown a tighter race. Peters leads James by five percentage points on average in Real Clear Politics’ polling averages. 

The most recent surveys from Reuters/Ipsos and Morning Consult found Peters leading James by margins of eight and nine percentage points, respectively, while other surveys conducted in early October from The New York Times/Siena College and YouGov/CBS News found Peters leading by much narrower margins of one and three percentage points, respectively. 

The closeness of the polls and fundraising is inspiring a last-minute crush of outside spending into the race from both sides, National Journal recently reported.

What some of the experts say

The Cook Political Report, Inside Elections, and Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics all rate the race as leans Democratic. 

FiveThirtyEight’s US Senate forecasting model shows Peters with a 79% chance of winning his bid for reelection. Peters is projected to win 52% of the popular vote, or 7 percentage points more than James with 45%.

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