Michigan businessmen vie for GOP nod to face Stabenow
By JEFF KAROUB
DETROIT — An Iraq War veteran endorsed by the president and an Ivy League-educated buyout specialist are vying today for the chance to take on Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow this fall.
Whether John James or Sandy Pensler emerges victorious from the Republican primary, it won’t be easy to defeat Stabenow, who is seeking a fourth term and has easily fended off past challenges. The GOP is hoping, though, that President Donald Trump’s narrow 2016 win in Michigan is a sign that she could be vulnerable.
The Republican candidates have little or no political experience: This is James’ first campaign for office, while Pensler unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. House years ago. The two have traded barbs over their business records, conservative credentials and Trump, who recently endorsed James.
Pensler, who has a master’s in economics from Yale and a law degree from Harvard, has been emphasizing his experience in the business world. The 61-year-old from Grosse Pointe advised large corporations on restructuring and later founded a buyout firm that owns and operates The Korex Cos., which manufactures detergents and cleaners at factories in Michigan, Illinois and Canada.
James, 37, of Farmington Hills, has been highlighting his own business credentials and military service. The West Point graduate flew Apache helicopters in combat and led two platoons during the Iraq War. After being honorably discharged, he joined his father’s Detroit-based group of companies: James Group International Inc. He is CEO of Renaissance Global Logistics, which ships supplier parts to auto factories around the world.
If James wins the primary, he would be the first black Republican in more than three decades to run for a major statewide office in Michigan. But James has downplayed the significance of his race in the campaign, saying he only wants to be judged on his character.
When Pensler entered the race, he had the financial advantage after loaning his campaign $5 million. But James, who gave his campaign $50,000, has made up ground, raising $3.9 million as of the end of June while securing endorsements from Right to Life, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Senate Conservatives Fund. Entering July, he had $1.3 million cash on hand compared to Pensler’s $2.3 million. Stabenow, who faces no primary challenger, had $9.6 million in the bank.