Low-key Demo­crat tries to hang onto Se­nate seat in Michi­gan

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - POLITICS - BY DAVID EGGERT

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Call him low-key, un­der­stated, maybe even “bor­ing.” First-term Sen. Gary Peters of Michi­gan is bet­ting vot­ers care more about his ef­fec­tive­ness, as he des­per­ately fights to keep a seat his party is count­ing on to take the Se­nate ma­jor­ity.

The be­spec­ta­cled, bearded 61-year-old former in­vest­ment ad­viser is a rare Se­nate can­di­date this cy­cle, a Demo­crat run­ning in a bat­tle­ground state Don­ald Trump car­ried in 2016. But un­like Demo­crat Joe Bi­den, whose lead over the pres­i­dent has grown, Peters is find­ing it tougher to shake top Repub­li­can re­cruit John James, a Black busi­ness ex­ec­u­tive and com­bat vet­eran.

Michi­gan has some­thing it has not seen in 20 years — a com­pet­i­tive Se­nate con­test — with con­trol of the cham­ber hang­ing in the bal­ance and Peters try­ing to cut through a po­lar­iz­ing po­lit­i­cal cli­mate.

Peters was the only non-in­cum­bent Demo­crat to win a Se­nate elec­tion in 2014, when he pre­vailed eas­ily de­spite the GOP’s suc­cesses na­tion­ally and in Michi­gan. He told The As­so­ci­ated Press his re-elec­tion cam­paign is “ba­si­cally me just fo­cus­ing on my job,” as the U.S. com­bats the coro­n­avirus pan­demic and the eco­nomic fall­out. “I think what Michi­gan­ders want is some­one who rolls up their sleeves, gets things done, not out there throw­ing rocks all the time.”

Some al­lies fret that it has been tough for the non­flashy Peters to stand out with his mes­sage of prag­ma­tism and bi­par­ti­san­ship. In a change from 2018, when James lost by 6.5 per­cent­age points to the state’s se­nior se­na­tor, Debbie Stabenow, James has out­raised Peters since an­nounc­ing his can­di­dacy. Su­per PACs and other out­side groups on both sides are spend­ing heav­ily in one of Repub­li­cans’ few pickup op­por­tu­ni­ties on the Se­nate map.

“Bi­den’s num­bers are sta­ble. He seems to be con­sol­i­dat­ing ex­actly the coali­tion of vot­ers” that pro­pelled Democrats to Michi­gan’s top of­fices in 2018, said Lon­nie Scott, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the lib­eral ad­vo­cacy group Progress Michi­gan. “That is just not the case with Peters.”

Peters’ fate could hinge on his abil­ity in the clos­ing weeks to seize on Demo­cratic en­thu­si­asm and win over younger vot­ers, women, in­de­pen­dents and African Amer­i­cans. All largely back Bi­den and Peters, but a big­ger per­cent­age re­main un­de­cided in the Se­nate race, ac­cord­ing to some polls.

Peters touted his gov­ern­ing ap­proach at a small get-out-the-vote cam­paign event Fri­day in down­town Grand Rapids, which re­mained quiet be­cause of the pan­demic. He said he ranks as one of the most bi­par­ti­san Se­nate Democrats and, de­spite be­ing a fresh­man in the mi­nor­ity, has writ­ten and passed more of his bills than any other se­na­tor.

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