DETROIT (CN) — Michiganders will confirm their party’s choices for a U.S. Senate seat Tuesday when they head to the polls or mail in their ballots to vote for either incumbent Democrat Gary Peters or Republican challenger John James.
Peters, elected in 2014, seeks a second term as a senator. He was previously a member of the U.S. House of Representatives representing Michigan's 9th Congressional District from 2009 to 2013 and Michigan's 14th Congressional District from 2013 to 2015. When he was elected to the Senate, he replaced the retiring Democrat Carl Levin.
John James, a Black Republican and supporter of President Donald Trump, is gunning for that seat. It will be his second attempt after losing to Democrat Debbie Stabenow in the 2018 election. If he wins, he would become Michigan’s first Black senator.
Both candidates are running unopposed for their respective political party.
James served eight years in the Army as a Ranger-qualified aviation officer and fought in the Iraq War. When he returned home to Michigan, he grew his father’s trucking business into a multimillion-dollar operation.
His support for President Trump has him walking a tightrope to appease the bombastic leader as he appeals for unity.
“We need leaders who are proven unifiers because partisanship is tearing the nation apart…Americans are desperately seeking wise and compassionate leadership,” James said in a survey conducted by Ballotpedia.
Marjorie Sarbaugh-Thompson, a political science professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, thinks Democratic primary voters will probably cast more ballots than their GOP counterparts.
“A lot of people seem to be having buyer’s remorse,” she said in an interview. “I’m not convinced the Republican Party will continue to keep gaining ground as they did in 2016.”
Sarbaugh-Thompson, using voter data from the 2018 election available on the Michigan Secretary of State website, surmises that the candidates’ race is not a determining factor in the elections as much as loyalty to political parties.
“The message I see from [the voter data] is that race does not matter much at all, but party ID does. There are lots of rural counties that supported James very strongly, but the population is low so it's just a few hundred extra votes for him. But it also suggests that white rural voters care more about ideology than skin color,” she said.
The professor said that given the large Black populations in counties that gave Senator Stabenow, a white woman, a big share of votes – Genesee, Saginaw and Wayne counties – it appears both urban and rural Michigan voters “care more about a candidate's ideology than about his or her skin color.” Wayne County, home of Detroit, gave Stabenow almost her entire margin of victory with about 265,000 more votes for her than for James in 2018.
The biggest challenge for James, in Sarbaugh-Thompson’s eyes, is reckoning with the president.
“[James’] biggest impediment is that he tied himself to Trump,” she said, adding his future “depends on very little about him personally, it depends on party.”
Sarbaugh-Thompson lamented the lack of consistent voting from young citizens but cautiously hopes the influx of absentee ballots due to the Covid-19 pandemic inspires more engagement and helps those who are too busy with work or other obligations to cast their ballot.
“I think it has the potential to do it, but it is hard to say this first time out. Senior citizens had the luxury of voting from home and my students did not,” she said. “I’ve argued that it is very biased for them. I’m hopeful we will do something about that.”
As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to disrupt virtually every aspect of American life, the Michigan’s secretary of state strongly urges the use of absentee ballots, which are available to all registered voters in the state. However, all voting precincts will be open on Aug. 4 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and state officials said they will act in “accordance with social distancing and safety protocols to ensure the safety of voters and election workers.”
The state said about 900,000 absentee ballots have already been returned and more than 1.9 million have been issued. That number is approaching the 2.2 million votes cast in the 2018 primary, the highest primary turnout on record in Michigan.
That influx of mail-in ballots will most likely delay official results.
“Right now our clerks…cannot even open envelopes or arrange ballots for tabulation until the morning of election day,” Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said at a press conference on Wednesday. “All data suggests we are talking about at least one or two more days before we get the results.”
Benson, a Democrat, warned against those who would try to exploit the delays.
"Various actors will try to attempt to spread false information about the integrity and security of our systems that are intended to mislead voters about their rights and sow seeds of doubt among the electorate about the accuracy of the results of our elections," she said. "We cannot let them carry the day."
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