Debbie Stabenow wins Michigan Senate race, but the Democrat didn't cruise to victory over John James

Senator Debbie Stabenow was elected to a third term in 2012 by 20 percentage points. In 2006, she won by 15 points

Published November 7, 2018 12:04AM (EST)

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Getty/Drew Angerer)
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Getty/Drew Angerer)

Michigan voters have re-elected Senator Debbie Stabenow to a fourth term — but the Democrat did not cruise to re-election. The race was called by the New York Times, with Stabenow leading with 52 percent of the vote to 46 percent for her Republican challenger John James. Stabenow was elected to a third term in 2012, winning her race by 20 percentage points. In 2006, she won by 15 points.

Surveys released in the final weeks before Election Day showed Stabenow with a sizable lead over James. The senator's advantage decreased in recent weeks, however, as the national Republican Party, including President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, rallied behind James — even after he came under fire for "unintentionally" showing what appears to be a swastika in his first ad of the general election in October. Pence campaigned for James in Michigan multiple times throughout the 2018 election cycle, most recently on Saturday.

Trump railed against the longtime Democratic incumbent and praised James in a Monday tweet, writing, "Debbie Stabenow voted against Tax Cuts, great Healthcare, Supreme Court Justices and all of the many things the people of Michigan wanted and needed. She is an automatic far left vote, controlled by her bosses. John James can be a truly great Senator!"

The president's tweet came one day after he called James a "spectacular young star of the future" and dubbed Stabenow a "Schumer Puppet" on his social media platform of choice.

"John James, running as a Republican for the Senate from Michigan, is a spectacular young star of the future. We should make him a star of the present," Trump wrote on Twitter. "A distinguished West Point Grad and Vet, people should Vote Out Schumer Puppet Debbie Stabenow, who does nothing for Michigan!"

While Michigan is a competitive state that leans Democratic, Trump carried it in 2016 by less than one percentage point. In comparison, former President Barack Obama won Michigan in 2012 by 9.5 percentage points.

The New York Times' national political correspondent Jonathan Martin previously wrote, "As the GOP struggles particularly in the Midwest, which President Trump sees as perhaps the most crucial part of his base, Michigan offers a vivid illustration of a crucial political dynamic: While control of Congress and the midterm implications for Mr. Trump consume attention, it is the coattails of Democrats at the top of state tickets that could dramatically reshape American politics after 2018."

As Democrats have seen blue spots emerge in Midwestern Trump country, Republican leaders were preparing for an upset in places they once saw as red. This was on display in James' recent appearance on Fox News — seemingly in an effort to speak directly to the president — just six days before Election Day.

"Mr. President, if you're watching, please come to Michigan. You have excellent luck on Election Day eve," James said, referring to Trump's surprise 2016 victory in the Great Lake State.

By Shira Tarlo

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2018 Midterm Elections 2018 Midterms