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Polls show tight race for Michigan's junior senate seat

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With less than 30 days to go until the November election polls show Democratic Senator Gary Peters and Republican challenger John James as neck and neck. The race for Michigan’s junior senate seat is one of the tightest in the country.

John James ran for senate in 2018 and lost. But he got closer than people thought he would.

The Black, conservative millennial is a charismatic campaigner—over the weekend he spoke directly to voters on a campaign check-in posted to Twitter.

“So, I thought I’d do this video outside because it is gorgeous," said James. "It’s probably one of the last few days that we have like this of the year. It might snow tomorrow, ‘cause Michigan, right? Just thought I’d give you a quick update on the race.”

James is pitching himself as a departure from the status quo focused on rebuilding economic and educational opportunity in the state. 

Early in the race James outraised Peters several quarters in a row. But the last quarter both candidates netted $14 million dollar hauls.  

“By the grace of God and the generosity of all of you out there we’re one of the only Republican campaigns in the country to match our Democrat opponent in fundraising this quarter, which is really awesome,” said James.

According to recent polls—the race is now within the margin of error. Jessica Taylor is the Senate and Governor’s editor for the Cook Political report, which has the race slated as “Leans D.” She says the gap between former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump needs to tighten in Michigan for James to have a chance.

“And I think that there's a good chance that Peters could run behind Biden," said Taylor. "So, I think that we could even see the senate race be closer than the presidential race.”

On an episode of Fox&Friends James said even with Biden leading Trump by several points, he thinks a Republican ticket will win.

“Well, what we're seeing on the ground with real actual people is people are fired up," said James. "People are excited. People are recognize that that what's been going on in Washington isn't working and they're not believing the lies that they're being fed from from the left leftist media.”

David Dulio is a professor of political science at Oakland University. He says he’s watching key endorsements that James has received—to him that’s the operative difference between 2018 when James lost to Senator Debbie Stabenow by six points and this year—where he’s narrowly trailing Peters.

"But if it if James can get those votes that some of those votes that Stabenow got in agricultural areas, like the thumb andin West Michigan, maybe that maybe it is enough to make a difference?" said Dulio.

Even though Peters’ lead in polls has dropped, the Senator still has an incumbent's advantage and good favorability ratings according to pollsters. Bernie Porn is president of the Lansing polling outfit EpicMRA. He says three big issues are on the minds of Michigan voters—reopening the economy and schools, controlling coronavirus cases and deaths, and reducing crime.

BP3 :23 And on the issue of reopening the economy: Those who chose that are solidly voting for John James. Those who say that crime in the cities are solidly voting for John James and those who cited the Coronavirus and all other issues are voting for Gary Peters.

Peters is straight forward. The moderate, white Democrat is laser focused on issues like the Affordable Care Act, postal service delays, and water contamination. But his name-ID for a sitting senator is remarkably low.

He’s pulled off upsets that didn’t seem feasible before. Lately—his campaign has been trying to boost its cash and Peters’ name-ID relying on Senators and Democrats with national reputations.

InstaLiveopening “Senator how are you? ‘I’m well Pete how are ya?”

In an Instagram live with former presidential candidate and Mayor of South Bend, Indiana Pete Buttigieg Peters’ laid out the stakes of the races for Democrats nationally.

He’s one of two Democrats up for reelection in state President Trump won in 2016.

"So right now, the polls are close. We're basically right at the margin of error. And that's why they're pouring money in. It's absolutely critical that we are have the resources to keep fighting the battle."

In the last month of the campaign he’s talked nonstop about filling the Supreme Court seat. He won’t be voting for President Trumps’ nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

"We have a very real shot to take the majority and in the United States Senate it's very real. And now when we're in the Supreme Court fight it's clear how important the United States Senate is and having a democratic majority is absolutely critical."

For Democrats—Michigan’s Senate seat is crucial. They need it to flip the Senate and gain a majority. For Republicans nabbing the seat would mean bragging rights and electing the first Republican from Michigan in a presidential year since 1972.

Abigail Censky is the Politics & Government reporter at WKAR. She started in December 2018.