Michigan Democratic Sen. Gary Peters has secured a second term after a hard-fought and expensive race against one of the GOP’s strongest recruits in the 2020 campaign, according to projections from NBC and ABC.
Peters’ win is a key hold for the Democrats in the battle for Senate control.
The GOP candidate, John James, has now twice failed in Senate races to unseat a Democratic incumbent in the state. James, Black entrepreneur and Iraq War veteran, two years ago lost by six-plus percentage points to Sen. Debbie Stabenow.
In a year the GOP had to play defense on upward of 10 competitive Senate seats, Peters’ seat represented one of Republicans’ few opportunities to pick off a Democrat in the party’s bid to maintain its majority in the chamber.
Peters, 61, who in his campaign had to overcome a surprisingly low profile, acknowledged these stakes.
Democrats, he told HuffPost in late October, “have a very real path to take the majority, and it gets more complicated if we don’t win here in Michigan.”
With Michigan also in the spotlight as a crucial swing state in the presidential contest, polling for the Senate race mostly gave Peters with small leads, though some showed it essentially a dead heat. Ultimately, more campaign dollars were spent on the Senate race than on the face-off between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden in the state.
The Senate Leadership Fund, the super PAC aligned with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), spent heavily on Michigan airwaves in support of the 39-year-old James. The group invested $4.63 million in the weekend before Election Day alone.
Former President Barack Obama, whom Biden’s campaign deployed to several states with an eye to increasing voter turnout among Black men, cut an ad for Peters, highlighting his work on aiding Michigan’s all-important auto industry, protecting health insurance coverage for those with preexisting conditions and securing more funding for Great Lakes restoration.
Trump carried Michigan by less than 1 percentage point in 2016 ― a crucial win in his election ― and as part of the sustained effort to put the state back in the Democratic column Obama and Biden made a joint campaign stop in the state on Saturday. Peters joined them, and the rally spotlighted the importance of his race as well to Democrats.
Michigan is among the handful of states that still has straight-ticket voting, allowing residents to vote for one party up and down the ballot with a single mark.
James attempted to bill himself as a “non-partisan” outsider candidate, capitalizing on Peters’ low profile to paint him as an ineffective lawmaker. But the Republican was dogged by his past closeness with Trump, including comments he was “2000%” in support of the president’s agenda. And Peters made a point of tying James to Trump.
Perhaps the campaign’s most newsworthy moment for the unassuming Petters occurred when he became the first sitting senator to share his abortion story, telling Elle magazine of the wrenching decision he and his wife made to end a difficult pregnancy in the 1980s.
Over the course of his reelection bid he offered himself as a bipartisan dealmaker, emphasizing the six bills he authored and saw signed into law under Trump, including expanding training programs for small businesses and apprenticeships for veterans.
“I think people want to make sure things get done and get done with some sort of consensus,” Peters told HuffPost about his efforts. “In the long run, we have to return our country to that kind of way of operating.”
But given the current climate in Washington, where the Republican Senate majority just pushed through a conservative Supreme Court justice as the election loomed and as some GOP lawmakers ― as well as Trump ― continue to question the public health consensus on battling the coronavirus pandemic, Peters clarified: “Let me be clear, I’m a Democrat and I’m a proud Democrat and hold Democratic values.”