Gary Peters wins reelection in Michigan, boosting the imperiled chances of Democrats flipping the Senate

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Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call; Insider

Democratic Sen. Gary Peters won a US Senate seat in Michigan against Republican John James, according to Decision Desk HQ.

The candidates

Peters, a former House representative from the Detroit area, was first elected to the Senate in 2014 and was seeking a second term.

Peters is one of the more understated and low-key members of the Democratic caucus but holds powerful posts as the ranking member of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and as a member of the Committee on Armed Services.

He's rated as one of the most bipartisan members of the Senate by Georgetown University's Lugar Center and has emphasized his record of working behind the scenes on Capitol Hill to secure concrete achievements on the campaign trail.

James, a US Army veteran who served as an aviation officer in Iraq and has more recently worked in economic development, was running for Senate in Michigan for the second time. He challenged Michigan's senior Democratic senator, Debbie Stabenow, in 2018 and lost by 6.5 percentage points, 52.3% to 45.8%.

As a Republican running in a state that President Donald Trump won by a margin of only 0.3 percentage points in 2016, James struck a delicate balance between emphasizing his conservative bonafides while creating some distance between his bid for office and Trump, mainly framing himself as part of an up-and-coming generation of Republican leaders.

As James lost the 2018 Senate race to Stabenow, Michigan elected Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and several other statewide Democratic officials and flipped two suburban US House seats, the 8th and 11th Congressional Districts, from Republican to Democratic control.

The stakes

Going into the election, Democrats hoped to regain control of the Senate for the first time since 2015.

Peters, along with Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, was one of just two Senate Democrats running for reelection in a state that Trump won in 2016.

James' compelling background, fundraising talent, and campaign charisma made him one of the strongest GOP recruits this cycle. But as in 2018, he faced an uphill battle overcoming the national trends favoring Democrats.

In 2020, James had to contend with Trump — who is receiving dismal marks from Michigan voters on his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic — running at the top of the ticket.

See Insider's full guide to the race for the US Senate here.

The money race

Though an extremely competitive fundraiser, James still raised and spent slightly less than Peters. This cycle, Peters raised $40.6 million, spent $38.3 million, and had $3.8 million in cash on hand, according to Federal Election Commission records. James raised $37.2 million, spent $31.5 million, and had $6.2 million in cash on hand.

In 2020's third fundraising quarter, Peters brought in $14.6 million, compared with $14.4 million for James. Peters slightly outraised his Republican opponent, but James entered the final sprint to November 3 with $8.7 million in cash on hand, far more than Peters' $3.5 million.

See the live coverage and full results from the US presidential election.

What the polling said

For most of the year, Peters led James by comfortable margins in almost all the polls conducted in 2020, but some surveys late in the race showed a tighter competition.

The most recent survey of the race conducted by the Michigan pollster EPIC-MRA found Peters leading James by 5 points, 47% to 42%, among Michiganders.

A poll conducted by CNN/SSRS from October 23 to 30 found Peters ahead by a wider margin of 12 points, 52% to 40%, among likely voters.

A survey conducted by Public Policy Polling and Progress Michigan showed Peters leading James by 10 points, 54% to 44%, among likely voters. Another poll of the race conducted by The New York Times and Siena College in late October found Peters leading James by 8 points, 49% to 41%, and an ABC News-Washington Post poll conducted from October 20 to 25 found Peters leading by 6 points, 52% to 46%, among likely voters.

The closeness of the polls and fundraising inspired a last-minute crush of outside spending into the race from both sides, National Journal recently reported.

What some of the experts said

The Cook Political Report, Inside Elections, and Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics all rated the race as "leans Democratic."

FiveThirtyEight's US Senate forecasting model showed Peters with an 83% chance of winning his bid for reelection. Peters was projected to win 52% of the popular vote, or 7 percentage points more than James with 45%.

Read the original article on Business Insider