EXCLUSIVE: John James, the Michigan Senate GOP candidate, raised $14 million in the third quarter and is within "striking distance" of upsetting incumbent Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., according to a Tuesday campaign memo obtained by Fox News.
In a sign of the competitive race, the super PAC aligned with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is pumping $5.4 million into ad spending in Michigan this week alone to help bolster Peters, the memo authored by James' campaign also revealed.
"Chuck Schumer's Senate Majority PAC will spend $5.4 million in one week -- this is the most money they are spending on any Democrat in the entire nation," James' general consultant, Stu Sandler, wrote in a confidential memo obtained by Fox News. "They are very nervous about John James, and they should be."
Sandler obtained the Democrats' spending information from James' ad buyers, he said. The Senate Majority PAC, which is trying to flip the Senate blue, did not comment on the amount of spending in Michigan this week. But Democrats offered statements expressing confidence Peters will win the support from Michigan voters.
"John James is the handpicked candidate of Mitch McConnell, Betsy DeVos, and the out-of-state billionaires and corporate special interests who are trying to buy this Senate seat," said Stewart Boss, spokesperson for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "Voters are going to reject James again next month because they know he’s tried to deceive them about his harmful agenda to repeal their health care and can’t be trusted to put Michigan families ahead of his party leaders and donors in Washington."
James, 39, is a West Point graduate, Army veteran and businessman who lost to longtime Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. in 2018 after a tough GOP primary. Two years later, James ran unopposed in the primary and has emerged as a tougher challenger for Peters, 61, a first-term senator, a former congressman and state lawmaker who served in the Navy Reserves.
James and the GOP have sought to depict Peters as an "invisible" career politician who has skipped congressional hearings and hasn't delivered for Michigan. Meanwhile, Peters has touted his bipartisanship and workhorse legislative achievements that may not have made flashy headlines but have made a difference.
Health care has been an issue in the race, with James criticizing Peters for getting health care coverage from a Michigan legislative retirement program rather than signing up for Obamacare. Meanwhile, James has taken heat for wanting to repeal Obamacare but not offering a concrete solution and in one interview suggesting that his replacement involves "having healthier Americans."
After Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., who is the most vulnerable Democrat up for reelection, Peters is the main target for Republicans to unseat in November. The rest of the Democratic incumbents are in safe seats this cycle. Peters has consistently had a slight edge over James in public polling, and the Cook Political Report rates the race as "lean" Democratic.
A new Detroit News-WDIV-TV poll out Tuesday shows Peters leading 45% to 40%.
"I think marginally it looks better for Peters," pollster Richard Czuba told The News.
Fundraising in the race has been neck-and-neck. Peters, who has a history of winning some tough races, has raised about $21 million through the second quarter whereas James has raised about $20 million. Peters already announced he brought in another $14 million in the third quarter. James had not yet publicly announced his fundraising haul, but the memo sent to the campaign's steering committee revealed James also brought in $14 million.
"James has kept pace with his opponent and continues to exceed nationwide trends," Sandler wrote in the memo, which also says their internal polling has the race essentially "tied" at 48% for Peters and 46% for James -- within the margin of error.
Meanwhile, the Senate Majority PAC has been going on offense and spending millions to try to defeat Republicans like Sens. Cory Gardner in Colorado, David Perdue in Georgia, Steve Daines in Montana, Susan Collins in Maine, Thom Tillis in North Carolina, Martha McSally in Arizona and Joni Ernst in Iowa.
But the large amount the PAC has been spending in Michigan stands out because it's to defend a sitting Democratic senator rather than flip a red state. Federal election records reviewed by the Center for Responsive Politics confirm that James is the only nonsitting senator to be a major target of negative ads.
"The astounding sum that the Senate Majority PAC is spending shows how close John James is to winning the U.S. Senate seat in Michigan," the memo says. "Schumer and the Democrats are in sheer panic that the $35 million that they have already spent against John James over the past year still has John James within striking distance of winning the Senate race."
A spokesperson for the Senate Majority PAC didn't comment on the ad spending in Michigan but suggested James' candidacy is faltering.
“Republicans are eager to bail out John James, who is failing gain to traction because of his out-of-touch views on health care and taking away coverage for those with pre-existing conditions," Matt Corridoni told Fox News.
Spending in the Michigan Senate race is expected to top $100 million and become the most expensive contest in Michigan's history, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. About 40 outside groups have already spent $50 million in ads in Michigan. The leading pro-Peters outside group is the Schumer-backed Senate Majority PAC at $13 million. And the biggest pro-James outside spender is the Senate Leadership Fund, the Senate GOP's counterpart, that has spent $9 million so far.
Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in Senate. With many more Republican incumbents on defense this year, Democrats are liking their chances at retaking control of the upper chamber. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., acknowledged the "challenging" election cycle and pegged the likelihood of Republicans staying in power next year at "50/50."