The race between Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Republican John James will feature back-to-back debates this Sunday and Monday in a contest that has featured a gusher of new money and keen interest from the White House.
The first debate between the two contenders will take place Sunday afternoon in Grand Rapids and the second on Monday at the Detroit Economic Club luncheon. This will be Stabenow's first debate in more than a decade as she did not have any in her last re-election campaign against former U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Holland.
Stabenow said she's "looking forward to" the debates.
"I view this as an opportunity for me to talk with voters about the hard work that I've been doing on their behalf and the results that I've been getting fighting for Michigan everyday," she said. "My tone will be positive. I get results every single day working across the aisle, and this is an opportunity to really be able to talk about that."
James said he is relishing the opportunity to debate Stabenow on her record.
"Sen. Stabenow is a 43-year politician who has been paid $4 million from taxpayers and only passed six bills," he said, a point the campaigns have disputed. "Sen. Stabenow owns a million-dollar home in D.C. and recently said she was 'unaware' of the issues facing our veterans. I look forward to talking about my record as a combat veteran and job creator compared to her record as a career politician who is ineffective."
James generated more than $3.6 million for the last quarter, doubling the $1.8 million for Stabenow in the same period and posting his first fundraising victory.
The political novice and Farmington Hills businessman is seeking to improve his name identification and close the gap with Stabenow, a Lansing Democrat who has dominated with airwaves with positive ads on the environment and farming.
She led 53 percent to 35 percent over James in a Sept. 30-Oct. 2 Detroit News-WDIV poll that had a margin of error of plus-minus 4 percentage points. Nearly 40 percent of likely Michigan voters did not know who James is in the early October poll, though his name ID improved to 58 percent, compared with 54 percent in early September.
Stabenow said that she thought that James "would be raising dollars certainly" this quarter, but "the fact is I feel so grateful that people have been supporting me at levels throughout the campaign" and that more than 90 percent of the people who have given to her have donated $100 or less.
"I have worked very hard to be in a position to be able to communicate my message. We've been on TV since August," she said. "I feel very comfortable with where we are in terms of having the resources to run an effective campaign."
Despite James' fundraising surge, the longtime senator has nearly $3 million cash on hand compared with $2.7 million for military veteran and businessman.
"I'm proud that the John James army of 60,000 individual grassroots donors could double the amount of a 43-year politician and the tightening polls reflect the strength of our message: protecting the American Dream for future generations," James said.
Stabenow already has reserved and run $3.2 million worth of ads for the last four weeks of the campaign.
The James' fundraising improvement follows key fundraisers held by Vice President Mike Pence and Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, both of whom came to Michigan to help him raise money against the well-funded Stabenow.
President Trump invited James to the White House in mid-September for a meeting and Twitter photo opportunity and then took him around to meet key Republican leaders in Washington after James and Pence attended another fundraiser.