Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, one of the two most vulnerable Democrats in the Senate, picked up a Republican challenger on Thursday that national Republicans hope will put the Wolverine State in play in 2020.
Army veteran John James, the 2018 Senate nominee, announced Thursday that he’s challenging Peters, one of just two Democratic senators up for reelection in a state that President Donald Trump carried in 2016.
James, 37, the chief executive of a supply chain logistics company based in Detroit, came closer than expected to defeating Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow last fall. Michigan was regarded as a solid Democratic race and didn’t attract much national attention or investment, but James ended up losing by less than 7 points.
James has long been Republicans’ top choice for the 2020 Senate race and met with Trump at the White House last month. But after Democrats flipped two districts in the state last fall, some Republicans were also interested in James running for the House. The state’s congressional map is in limbo after being tossed out by a federal court.
The former U.S. Army helicopter pilot touted his military experience in his Senate campaign announcement, and on the Fox News morning show “Fox & Friends.”
“While I know from firsthand experience that being a candidate for political office cannot compare with the risks one takes during combat, I do know what it’s like to put my life on the line for a sense of duty,” James said in his campaign announcement.
Peters released a statement following James’ announcement, saying he remains focused on “continuing to deliver results for Michigan.”
“I’ll keep working with anyone to improve life for Michiganders, whether it’s to expand training programs so everyone has the skills needed to find good-paying jobs, protect our Great Lakes or lower the cost of health care and prescription drugs,” Peters said.
According to a fundraising email from the James camp, the Republican will not officially kick off his campaign until next year, but is collecting donations in the meantime.
Republicans hope James’ run could shape the dynamics of the presidential race in Michigan by putting a spotlight on a down-ballot race.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee has argued the race will boost Republican turnout, while the Trump 2020 campaign has reportedly fretted that James entering the race will increase Democratic spending in the state and lead to higher opposition turnout.
James was a strong fundraiser in 2018. He ended the first three months of this year with $478,000. Peters has $3 million in the bank.
Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Likely Democratic.
Simone Pathe contributed to this report.