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Redrawn 10th Congressional District pits GOP rising star John James against experienced Democrat Carl Marlinga

John james and Carl malinga.jpg
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Republican candidate for the 10th Congressional District John James [left] and Democratic candidate Carl Malinga [right].

Michigan’s re-drawn legislative boundaries created a political vacuum in some areas.

That’s the case in the 10th Congressional district, which now includes much of southern Macomb County, plus Rochester and Rochester Hills in Oakland County. The campaign to fill the open US House seat in the 10th matches a 41-year-old businessman the GOP touts as a rising star, against a 75-year-old Democrat with a long history in Macomb County politics.

Earlier this month at a Trump rally on the campus of Macomb Community College, the former president sang the praises of the state candidates he’d endorsed, and one congressional contender in particular.

“Finally, right here in Michigan’s 10th Congressional District, you have the privilege of voting for an incredible patriot," Trump said, "a West Point graduate, a U-S Army veteran, a successful businessman, and your next Congressman, John James.”

The GOP hopeful approached the stage armed with the credentials he’s touted in unsuccessful bids for the U-S Senate the last two election cycles, but it's a background James says is well-suited for his current campaign for Congress.

“I’m running in Michigan’s newly-drawn 10th Congressional District, which will be the number one manufacturing district in the nation," James said, "The first time that Selfridge and the Arsenal of Democracy will be in the same district. And we’ll have a chance to have a combat veteran who understands business and supply chains to represent it.”

James says he has first-hand experience with business concerns as the head of his family’s auto supply chain a warehousing company.

He told the crowd it’s a completely different economic environment than when Republicans led Congress.

“Life was much better for most of us back then," James said, "And despite the absurd spin coming out of the White House, we know from our trips to the grocery store and to the gas station, we know better. They put America last when we put America first.”

James told reporters this summer he would take his campaign message to voters’ back yards, meeting with small groups in intimate settings.

But heading towards the general election, James is campaigning with a steady stream of high-quality direct mailings and a series of T-V ads.

One of his recent commercials says: “I’m John James and I want to grow your economy, not Washington’s. I’m an open-minded, free-thinking conservative. And I’m not afraid to listen even if you disagree with me. I’m not a career politician, but I do know how to create Michigan jobs. My automotive logistics business is the kind of business that put Michigan on the map. Right now there are people in this state who feel silenced, marginalized. I’m looking forward to bringing a voice to people who’ve been silenced. Michigan deserves a leader who’s lived in the real world. I’m John James. I’ll put you first…and politics last.”

But Republican donors and a group tied to the House GOP leadership are putting James first.

The Detroit News cites financial disclosure reports showing James raised more money in the last quarter than any other Congressional candidate in Michigan.

The GOP-backed Congressional Leadership Fund reportedly booked millions of dollars’ worth of ad time for James through Election Day.

Politico estimates James is one of only two Republican candidates for the House in the nation who have out-raised their Democrat opponent by more than double.

Meanwhile, at a union hall in Warren, Democrat Carl Marlinga is trying to cut into that funding gap.

Marlinga served two decades as county prosecutor, leaving in 2004. He was on the bench as a circuit and probate court judge in 2013 until retiring in February.

But Marlinga says the continuing, unproven claims of election fraud by some Republicans brought him back to the political arena.

“I could not let the Trump faction try to do what they did in 2021 by using the House of Representatives to try to disallow an election and to get rid of electoral votes," Malinga said. "John Kennedy talked about the hour of maximum danger when he was president in terms of the external threat. I think this is our hour of maximum danger in this country. So I had to get in.”

Marlinga acknowledges that many voters fear rising inflation this election cycle. He says the answer lies in embracing clean energy.

“If OPEC really had the fear that we were seriously considering and moving towards alternative energy sources, just the threat of being able to move our economy from a fossil fuel, oil and gas economy to a renewable energy economy would cause them economically in their own best interests to have more oil and gasoline on the market," Marlinga said. "Then prices get lowered. When those prices get lowered, everything else falls.”

Like James, Marlinga lost two previous bids for Congress.

But he last ran almost 20 years ago, compared to James’ much-more recent campaigns that kept him in the public eye.

Marlinga argues he’s still well-known in Macomb.

“I think I’ve got a long history of having earned their trust," Marlinga said, "I’m exactly the type of person that they look to and they say, ’Hey we know him, and as long as he’s keeping his eye on the prize to make sure that the economy is booming, we’re gonna be with that guy.’ ”

Both campaigns are already trying to disrupt any trust in their opponent.

James' spokespeople accuse Marlinga of showing sympathy for drug dealers and pedophiles, though in fact Marlinga prosecuted and jailed numerous sexual offenders.

Marlinga’s campaign says James is a carpetbagger who lives many miles away from the 10th district he’s running to represent. James has pledged to move to the district if elected.

But Democratic voter Carmi Finn says those allegations are not what’s driving her to the ballot box.

“The issues that are important to me are a woman’s right to choose what happens to her future and her body," Finn said. "Right up there with it is protecting our democracy from the people who are willing and seemingly able to tear it down right before our eyes. Economic issues are cyclical. I don’t think you can place the blame for them on any one individual or party. I think those problems can be resolved and that they come and go and we deal with them as Americans. What we can’t deal with is losing our rights as citizens.”

On the roadways outside the union hall however, some voters say they are dealing with a different issue.

A Macomb County Lyft driver named Bob says he prefers not to give his last name to customers. He glances at the fuel gauge on his dashboard and says he also has a candidate in the 10th Congressional District he prefers.

“Right now I’m leaning James," Bob said. "I know Carl Marlinga’s a nice guy and everything but I kind of like what John James stands for and his policies. He’s for jobs. He’s for getting our gas prices under control. Gas is killing us. Two-and-a-half years ago it was costing me $22 to fill up my tank. Now it’s costing me $51. John James is for energy independence for the United States. And you know, James, I’m willing to give a chance to (him), and let’s get some new blood in there and see what we can do, see how it turns out.”

The past may not necessarily be prologue for James in the new 10th District.

Voters within its re-drawn boundaries backed Democrats in James two Senate bids, though his last race was very close.

But fellow Republican Donald Trump, who has endorsed James, narrowly won within those same lines — twice.

Ed Note: The John James campaign did not make the candidate available for an interview for this story.

Quinn Klinefelter is a host and Senior News Editor for 101.9 WDET, anchoring midday newscasts and preparing reports for WDET, NPR and the BBC. Klinefelter joined WDET in 1998 after earning a M.A. from the nation’s top-ranked journalism school, the University of Missouri-Columbia, and working as a sports correspondent for BBC Radio 4 and as a talk show host, anchor and reporter for Wisconsin Public Radio.