After one of the most expensive and closely-watched Senate races of the year, Gary Peters has emerged victorious — in a historically close contest. The Democratic incumbent, who faced an assertive challenge from Republican businessman and veteran John James, will return to the Senate to serve his second six-year term, after the Associated Press called the race for Peters after 9 p.m. on Wednesday.. At the time of publication, Peters won by just less than 60,000 votes, or 1.1 percentage points, with 98% reporting.
While Peters was initially expected to coast to victory, his lead narrowed in the months leading up to Election Day. In early October, a Siena College/New York Times poll put Peters ahead by just 1%, and his lead over James was consistently smaller than Biden’s lead over Trump in Michigan. Peters is one of the lesser-known members of the cabinet, but endorsements from Barack Obama, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, and several labor, environmental, and human rights groups helped buoy his campaign. By the last week in October, poll aggregator FiveThirtyEight gave him a more than 80% chance of reelection, and he entered Election Day with a 7% lead in the polls. That disappeared quickly as votes were tallied on Election Night.
Peters’ win is a relief for the Democratic Party, which hoped to retain his seat in the Senate. The Democrats must flip four seats in the Senate (three if Biden is elected) to regain control of the legislative body. That is looking increasingly unlikely as the final ballots are counted in other Senate races around the country.
Peters is a moderate Democrat with a strong bipartisan record. As a Senator he has pushed for lower prescription drug prices, community-based policing, Great Lakes cleanup and research and student debt relief. He voted for the CARES act and secured additional COVID-19 aid for community-based and minority-owned businesses.
The race will finish up as either the fifth or sixth most expensive Senate race of 2020, though the $86 million dollar price tag still thankfully lags behind the arms race-like spending between Cal Cunningham and Thom Tillis in North Carolina ($205 million).
Peters’ campaign was aided by many donations from large local corporate funders include Ford Motor Co., DTE Energy and the Dykema Gossett law firm. He also benefited from individual contributors with ties to the Detroit area, like Hannan Lis of Weight Watchers International, former Michigan governor Jim Blanchard, auto dealer Carl Galeana, philanthropist Avinash Rachmale (CEO of LGC Global), and attorney George Googasian.
James’ major individual campaign donors with ties to Michigan include members of the DeVos family, Anthony Soave (of Soave Enterprises), Thomas Monaghan (founder of Domino’s Pizza) and Matthew Moroun.