Republican Senate candidate John James often invokes the phrase “the American Dream” in describing what motivated his entrance into politics — a lofty phrase the political novice seems uniquely qualified to wield given his background.
The son of a self-made Detroit businessman, John attended West Point before heading overseas in 2007 to fly combat missions in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He returned home to help run the family’s global supply chain logistics company, where he achieved immediate success — increasing revenue from roughly $35 million in 2012 to $137 million as of 2017, while creating over 100 jobs along the way. Having risen to president of James International, his thoughts turned once again to public service.
“The reason that I left Detroit the first time to serve, is the same reason I came back to Detroit, but rather than serving my country, I wanted to serve my community,” James told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “During operation Iraqi Freedom, I remember seeing images of my home, Detroit, and my family and friends back here in the state of Michigan, who were suffering and I didn’t feel like there were people in Washington fighting hard enough for the people in the state of Michigan so I resolved to do what I could.”
At just 36-years-old old and lacking political experience, James’ Senate bid is certainly ambitious. Just 68 of the 1,971 senators that have served since Congress convened in 1789 were sworn in before their 36th birthday.
James addressed the obvious criticism head on in a recent video, one of 100 he made as a campaign to speak directly to voters.
“I flew 750 hours of combat in Baghdad, and on exactly zero occasions did anybody ask me my age before I put a hellfire missile down a terrorist’s throat,” James said.
Initially viewed as somewhat of a long shot candidate due to his inexperience, James’ prospects for success have increased dramatically in recent months as top GOP challengers dropped out of the primary, forfeiting the opportunity to take on Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow in the 2018 general election. The most high-profile of the challengers, aging performer Kid Rock, capitalized on his status as a well-loved native son of Michigan in 2017. Kid Rock teased a Senate run for months and sold merchandise to that effect, before announcing that he would not run in October. The pair was recently spotted dining together at Kid Rock’s restaurant before sitting court side at a Detroit Pistons game.
The field continued to open for James after wealthy Republican front-runner GOP Rep. Fred Upton left the race, followed shortly by former Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bob Young. The departure certainly benefits James, however, it’s not clear he needed the help. He was leading Upton by five points and Young by significantly more than that as of mid-November, according to a survey conducted for MIRS News.
His prospects have certainly improved, however, the political upstart must still contend with a challenge from wealthy Michigan financier Sandy Pensler, who entered the race in November and vowed to spend millions of his own money for the opportunity to challenge Stabenow. (RELATED: As Upton Drops Out, GOP Pins Hopes On Michigan Newcomer)
For James, everything goes back to job creation, an area he feels uniquely qualified to speak to considering his record in the private sector. It is that experience, combined with his military service, that he believes gives him a competitive edge over career politicians in Washington, a class of people he believes have no interest in helping improve the lot of Michiganders.
James’ confidence in his own ability to affect change in the notoriously complacent capital is matched only by his faith in the people of Michigan.
“The world knows no one can compete with American goods, American services and the American worker when we compete on a level playing field,” James said. “When Michigan is competing on a level playing field, we win because we have the best infrastructure, supply chain and talent all localized in one place here in Michigan. Michigan manufacturing has won wars, we have the talent base to succeed and dominate in trade and there’s no substitute for American goods around the world.”
For a young man, James has a noticeable sense of nostalgia for the Michigan of the mid-twentieth century, when the state was the automotive giant of America and the manufacturing envy of the world — a condition James fully believes his home state can get return to given the right leadership.
“What people may not understand or remember is that Michigan was the birth place of the middle class. Michigan manufacturing not only won wars but we made the middle class,” he said. “I believe that by having real honest to goodness Michigan leadership we can do that again.”
Drill down on policy ideas that James believes are undervalued in the national conversation and he quickly points out the failure of boiler plate public education, that he argues inevitably leaves people behind. James insists on focusing on those so-called forgotten Americans, speaking to them directly in much the same way President Donald Trump did.
“We must graduate high schoolers who have a skill. The push for decades has been go to college, go to college, go to college, but I believe in that push we’re leaving too many folks behind,” James explained. He offered a variety of solutions to the problem, including altering the teacher tenure track system, that he believes protects “bad actors” and does little to attract new, young talent to the classroom.
James said he would “have to take a more detailed look” at student loan forgiveness before commenting on lending regulations and the student debt crisis.
The way in which the novice politician tempers his pro-business rhetoric with plenty of populist reassurances, stressing that increased economic performance is important only insofar as it improves the lives of Michiganders, seems uniquely suited to the current state of conservative politics in America. He argues America must reenergize its manufacturing sector, not just in service of economic growth, but rather to “allow everyone to participate in the growth of this economy so that everybody can get one step closer to the American dream.”
Establishment politicians on both sides of the aisle are “taking us for granted,” James insists, further lending his candidacy to the Trump era and, perhaps, charting a new approach aimed at harnessing the surge of populist energy Trump rode into the Oval Office.
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