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He's got a new 14-week-old son back home in Farmington Hills. He was fighting a cold that made him sound raspy. But John James sucked it up Monday so a sold-out gathering of 350 Republican faithful in Delta Township could hear him.
James, the Republicans' 2018 U.S. Senate nominee, has become quite the hot commodity after outperforming expectations last year in a race against U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Delta Township. That has led to speculation he will run against Michigan’s other Democratic U.S. senator, Gary Peters, in 2020. And the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee wants him to run against freshman Rep. Haley Stevens in the 11th District.
So, what is he running for? The CEO of Detroit-based James Group international didn't say, but it's clear he's running for something.
Otherwise, why bother driving to Eaton County to give a short speech during the joint Eaton and Clinton counties’ Lincoln Day dinner? He gave similar speeches to Washtenaw and Genesee County Republicans.
And why have former campaign staff in the audience, some taking video? And why be cautious to avoid the press? James literally vanished seconds after his address and was not available to media at any point.
Meanwhile, his rhetoric dripped with the type of red meat that gets the Republican faithful fired up.
First, he said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's 45-cent gas tax increase is the type of Democratic policies that would "screw Michigan families" and push jobs out of Michigan.
The regular FOX News interviewee repeatedly used the term "socialism" to describe the "Green New Deal," universal health care and other progressive/Democratic Party initiatives.
"We have to be cognizant of what's going on and in 2020, Michigan voters and Americans will have a choice. Are we a capitalist nation or are we a socialist nation?" he asked.
James lost by 6.5 percentage points, much closer than was expected, but Stabenow's folks declined to go negative on him.
If he were to run in 2020, James will be in for a much different experience.
Peters’ campaign released a memo that noted how Peters survived the 2010 Republican tsunami to retain his seat in Congress in 2010. Peters won in 2012 when he was drawn out of his district during redistricting. He also won his Senate seat in 2014 by 13 points during "another brutal year for Democrats."
"If James does run, he'll start the race by having to explain why he deleted hundreds of social media posts where he made damaging statements about tearing down protections for pre-existing conditions coverage and standing by President Trump's agenda '2,000 percent,'" wrote campaign manager Dan Farough.
"James will also have to defend an uncompromising view on women's reproductive rights at a time when Republican-controlled states are rushing to ban abortion — even in cases of rape and incest. Where does he stand now?"
Monday, James crediting his family's success to "refusing" to play the victim card despite growing up in the South. His father served in Vietnam, worked hard and became a successful businessman.
That success, through capitalism, helped put him, his father's son, in a position to run for the U.S. Senate. "Socialism" would crush this type of dream, James said.
"We need to have people in Washington who understand what it takes to work with everyone and anyone to get results," he said. "We find ourselves in a critical time in our nation's history. With Michigan, again, playing a critical role in shaping its future. What will it take to make America great again?"
James received a standing ovation after his remarks. After that, the night's emcee, former House Speaker Tom Leonard, said he didn't know what office James would run for next, but that "That's the future of our party right there."
The political insiders in town see James getting into the race. A recent survey of 520 respondents taken by EPIC-MRA for MIRS shows 69% believe James will be the nominee.
(Melinn, of the Capitol news service MIRS, is at email@example.com.)