Monday, June 11, 2018

New Pensler Ad Hitting John James Over Dem Contribution Shows The GOP Senate Race Is Heating Up Big League

By Brandon Hall
(Email Him At

It's clear that as the August primary quickly approaches, the Republican US Senate campaign is heating up big league.

The latest?

Sandy Pensler says he's the "real conservative" in the race to replace Sen. Debbie Stabenow in a controversial new ad attacking John James for a $500 donation in 2015 to a liberal member of Detroit's City Council, a council member who has led the fight for keeping the D a "sanctuary city" for illegals.

James says the ad proves Pensler is a "desperate liberal," covering up for previously being pro-choice nearly 30 years ago.

For James, the $500 donation seems to be his only donation to anyone, ever: he's never donated to any Republican candidates, or anyone else. 

Pensler says he no longer supports abortion and became pro life after the birth of his son decades ago. (Presidents Trump and Reagan were also pro choice at one time, as was Attorney General Schuette, and many others.)

So, how did we get here?

The race originally started last year with James, an Iraq War vet, as well as former Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court Bob Young, and business owner Lena Epstein.

Then, last fall, Epstein decided to run for Rep. David Trott's open seat, and Young dropped out. Pensler, a businessman who rescues failing companies, subsequently entered the race. 

James initially struggled to raise money after announcing, but has improved his standing in recent months. Pensler is self funding and has already given his campaign around $5 million.

Pensler introduced himself to voters with a Super Bowl ad touting his message of putting "Michigan First," saying he was "Detroit Tough." It didn't quite have the impact Gov. Snyder's famous "One Tough Nerd" ad did in 2010, nor Shri Thanedar's popular commercial, but it was effective. The first ad from James prominently featured his military service.

While Pensler has mostly used his money to relentlessly run a TV and digital ad war, James has built a grassroots army and frequently appears on Fox News and other outlets, racking up earned media appearances.

The latest poll shows Pensler has a comfortable lead, but James is still within striking distance: Pensler leads James by 10, 36% to 26% with nearly 40% undecided.

Both men have a business background, with Pensler founding his own company that has been in business for decades. Pensler is known for taking over failing companies and then turning them around. James touts his experience helping run his family's factory in Metro Detroit.

Another contentious issue has been debates. James proposed 3, Pensler agreed to 1 and helped organize it. The two will battle on a July 6th episode of "Off The Record," which will be moderated by host Tim Skubick.

With less than two months to go, expect a nasty race similar to the campaigns for Governor and Attorney General as Pensler hopes to seal the deal and James hopes to mount a comeback. 

James has a powerful story, but will he have the resources to make sure enough voters hear it? If so, this race could go down to the wire.

Stay tuned!


Brandon Hall is a lifelong political nerd from Grand Haven, and is the Managing Editor of West Michigan Politics.

>>>Email him at

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