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Seeking reelection, Sen. Gary Peters hopes for "overwhelming victory" for U.S. Democrats

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Gary Peters for Senate
U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-Michigan) is running for reelection. His Republican opponent is John James.

Michigan voters will choose a U.S. senator on Election Day. Republican John James is challenging Democratic Senator Gary Peters, who is seeking his second term. 

Peters spoke with Michigan Radio's Doug Tribou.

The vast majority of polls in the last month or so shows Peters with a lead over James. However, the race is tight. Many polls have shown single-digit leads that could evaporate if the margin of error swings in favor of James.

"Michigan is a battleground state. We always knew it would be close," Peters said. "[Democrats] have a real shot to take a majority in the Senate ... which is why folks like [Republican Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell and his Super PAC and outside billionaires have poured ... in the last three weeks, $20 million of negative, nasty false ads. They understand the stakes are high."

Supreme Court concerns 

As Peters and James began the final push to win over Michigan voters, the U.S. Supreme Court's newest justice was sworn in. The appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett has led to some discussion of Democrats' options, should they win control of the White House and Congress on Election Day. 

One idea that's been floated is the possibility that Democrats could add justices to the court and push it in a more liberal direction. Peters is opposed to expanding the court.  

"Michigan is a battleground state. We always knew it would be close." -U.S. Senator Gary Peters on his race against John James

"I think right now to be talking about that is just a distraction," Peters told Michigan Radio's Morning Edition. "The Republicans just put on the court, a justice who has said through her writings that she wants to overturn the Affordable Care Act. [Barrett] will be hearing a case [about the Affordable Care Act] a week or so after the election. And if that's overturned, Michiganders are going to be put in a very precarious situation.

"We're going to see folks who right now have protections if they have preexisting conditions to have that disappear. The 800,000 people who have health care coverage because of the expansion of Medicaid will lose that coverage. Senior citizens will see their drug prices go up should they make that ruling. We're going to need to make sure that we're electing folks who are going to put back in an Affordable Care Act that works for everybody."

Opposing views of the ACA

Peters noted that James favors repealing Obamacare, but, like President Trump, has not presented an alternative concept.

"Republicans have talked about repealing this for years and they never have any idea how to replace it," Peters said.

Michigan Radio was in contact with the James campaign multiple times over the course of a few weeks in October and offered several dates and times for an interview. The campaign did not make James available.

Trump and James are not the only people who have been critical of the ACA over the years. Asked if he sees flaws in it, Peters pointed to an idea known as the "public option," which would have added Medicare as an option. It was not included when the legislation was passed.

"If you go into the state exchange, it allows you to buy health insurance that is based on your income. But you can pick from a variety of private insurance plans that are offered." Peters said. "Having Medicare in there, I think will drive even more competition, bring down prices, make it more affordable for folks. But I also believe we should expand access to Medicare for folks who are 50 and over."

Other priorities

Peters said his other priorities include campaign finance reform and funding infrastructure projects. 

"[I]t's not just the roads and bridges, which, of course, are critical, but it's also things such as the Soo Locks up in northern Michigan," he said. "But also one thing that is becoming clearly apparent to everybody, particularly now that we're in this COVID crisis, is that we have to close the digital gap and make sure that everybody has access to quality, high speed internet."

However, Peters added that all of those things need to be secondary to the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. He believes Demoratic presidential candidate Joe Biden will deliver a coordinated response. 

"[M]ake sure people have the health supplies they need, the personal protection equipment. Make sure we've got the testing that we need. Make sure we're helping small businesses and families survive this financial crisis," he said.

Counting the votes

President Trump has repeatedly - and without evidence - questioned the validity of the election process. Peters is concerned by the rhetoric, but also sees an opportunity for his party. 

"The best way to make sure that we don't have a election that the president tries to contest in some way is just to make sure the results are large. There needs to be an overwhelming victory for Democratic candidates. It's important not just to win, but to win big and demonstrate very clearly that the American people reject the politics of division and hate that we have seen over these last few years, and we're coming together as a country, and we're coming together in a big way."

Lauren Talley contributed to this story.

Editor's note: Quotes in this story have been edited for length and clarity. You can hear the full interview at the top of the page. 

Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Public staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
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