EXCLUSIVE: Iraq War Vet And Detroit Businessman Makes Case That He’s The GOP’s Best Shot At Beating Stabenow

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Iraq War veteran and Detroit businessman John E. James, who is considering a U.S. Senate bid in Michigan, is confident that he is the Republican Party’s best shot to unseat Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow in 2018.

James, who launched an exploratory committee in preparation for a potential Senate bid on July 18, says that his military background combined with his business experience makes him uniquely qualified to serve in the Senate.

“I understand what it takes to keep Americans safe. I also have experience creating jobs,” James told The Daily Caller News Foundation Wednesday in his first sit-down interview since his announcement. “I believe that is what Americans truly care about.”

James served eight years in the military as a Ranger qualified aviation officer, where he spent more than 750 hours conducting combat missions as an Apache helicopter pilot in Iraq. He served during the height of the surge.

“I was over there fighting for Iraqi freedom during the time of the Great Recession,” James explained. “I come back on leave, and I drive around, and the city of Detroit in some places looked just about as bad as Baghdad.”

After serving in Iraq, James returned to Michigan where he is now president of James Group International, a supply chain and logistics company.

“We grew the company from about $35 million to about $137 million between 2012 and 2017,” James said. “We increased our workforce from 100 to about 200 and are looking at adding a few more jobs in western Wayne County.”

James claimed that as a result of his business experience he understands how to create economic opportunity and increase access to the digital economy of the future. “I also have experience creating jobs in the city of Detroit, in the state of Michigan, and across the country,” James said.

James has a message for the scores of Michigan workers who were hit hard by the Great Recession.

“My message to them is we still need you,” James said. He argued that many in Washington have forgotten about the greatness of the American worker. “They’re telling us to settle for fifteen dollars an hour when we’re worth so much more than that,” he said.

A deeply religious man, James said every decision he makes is guided by his faith and his family. He said that it’s the support of his family and his trust in the Lord that has helped him navigate life, whether it was his time at West Point or his role at James Group International.

“I understand that the first, most important command is to serve the Lord to the best of your ability,” James told TheDCNF. “And the second is to love your neighbor, and you do both, by loving and serving.”

Along with a bachelor’s degree in Law and Systems (Industrial) Engineering at West Point, James earned a Master of Supply Chain Management and Information Systems from Penn State University Smeal School of Business in 2014 and an MBA from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business in 2015.

The Michigan Republican Party is looking for a strong candidate to take on Stabenow. A popular three-term senator, Stabenow was first elected in 2000 and has successfully beat back Republican attempts to take the seat. Recent Senate elections in Michigan have favored Democrats, even as Republicans dominated state politics and congressional seats.

In 2012, Stabenow defeated former Republican Rep. Pete Hoekstra by nearly one million votes (58 percent to 39 percent). In 2014, Democrat Gary Peters defeated Republican candidate Terry Lynn Land by 13 points to capture Michigan’s other Senate seat.

Stabenow enjoys huge support from donors in the Metro-Detroit area. After two disappointing losses, it will take a compelling candidate to convince Republican donors to come back on board in 2018. State party officials point to President Donald Trump’s ability to turn Michigan red at the presidential level for the first time since 1988 as evidence that a Republican can defeat Stabenow in 2018.

Michigan, specifically Macomb County, is considered the birthplace of “Reagan Democrats” after working-class whites began to abandon the Democratic Party in Michigan. They rejected the anti-war left and rising liberal wing and supported Republicans including Ronald Reagan and Michigan’s own Gerry Ford.

The political winds shifted back to Democrats beginning in 1992 when the state voted for Bill Clinton.

Figures like Pat Buchanan have done well in Macomb County, which often gravitates towards conservative populism. If Republicans expect to make a play for Michigan, they’ll have to follow Trump’s 2016 strategy of running up the score in the blue collar, working class suburbs that border Detroit.

If he officially enters the race, James would join former Michigan State Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Young and Metro-Detroit Businesswoman Lena Epstein as declared candidates. A source close to Michigan GOP politics told TheDCNF that Michigan Republican Rep. Fred Upton, an influential Washington figure, is seriously entertaining a Senate bid as well.

American rock musician Robert Ritchie, better known as Kid Rock, has floated the idea that he may run, something that does not seem to phase James one bit.

“Mr. Ritchie [Kid Rock] is a great American and people should not make the mistake of ignoring him,” James told TheDCNF last week. “Mr. Ritchie cares about this state and he wants to do something about it.”

“He helps remind us what we are fighting for and I take Mr. Ritchie very seriously. While he was singing about freedom, I was defending it,” he said.

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