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U.S. Senate candidates Stabenow, James trade blows in Detroit debate

Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow and Republican challenger John James
Detroit Public Television
Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow and Republican challenger John James

Michigan’s senior U.S Senator and her Republican opponent faced off in a debate Monday in front of the Detroit Economic Club.

Eighteen-year incumbent Democrat Debbie Stabenow faces challenger John James, a Detroit native and U.S. Army combat veteran who served in the Iraq War.

James accused Stabenow of being a mediocre and ineffective legislator in Washington.

“Sen. Stabenow is a very, very nice lady. But I believe that over time, Sen. Stabenow has become ineffective, she’s become hyperpartisan, and she’s lost a bit of credibility, given her record,” James said in his opening statement.

He added later: “She is trying to get us not only to accept mediocrity, but to expect it. I believe that we must demand excellence of our leaders.”

Stabenow countered that James is big on attacks, but short on specifics when it comes to plans for everything ranging from immigration reform to protecting access to health insurance for people with pre-existing conditions.

“Anybody can talk about the problems. We all can talk about the problems. The question is, who’s got the capacity to actually get things done, the knowledge…who’s done it?” Stabenow said.

Stabenow counters that as the ranking Democrat on the Senate’s agriculture committee, she’s done a lot for Michigan’s farmers. She pointed to recent success with bills she’s sponsored or co-written, including one that ends pharmacists’ gag clauseson some prescription drug prices, and another bringing in guaranteed funding to upgrade the Soo Locks.

In rebuttal to James’s contention that Stabenow has overstayed her welcome in Washington, Stabenow said, “I think what we don’t need is inexperience right now, in very difficult times."

James, who describes himself as a “pro-life, pro-Second Amendment, pro-business conservative,” sought to distance himself somewhat from President Trump and Republicans during the debate.

“Please pick person over party. Don’t just judge me because you think you know me because there’s an R by my name,” James said. “I’m running as a Republican because I’m conservative, not the other way around.”

Stabenow called that “interesting,” given James’s previous touting of Trump’s endorsement.

James also declined to directly discuss his views on abortion and gay marriage on Monday, saying only that he’d defer to “the law of the land,” and would listen to women’s voices on campaign trail.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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