2 businessmen battle in Michigan’s Republican Senate primary

LANSING — Michigan Republicans’ uphill bid to grab hold of a U.S. Senate seat for just the second time in 40 years starts with an increasingly testy primary between two Detroit-area businessmen who are trading barbs over Donald Trump and their own business records.

The winner of the Aug. 7 contest, John James or Sandy Pensler, will advance to face third-term Sen. Debbie Stabenow. She has fended off past challengers with ease, but Trump’s narrow 2016 victory in the state — the first for a GOP presidential nominee in more than a quarter-century — is seen as an opening.

James got a big boost Friday by getting Trump’s endorsement. The president tweeted that James is a “spectacular” candidate “with such great potential.”

Unlike the Republican nominees who faced Stabenow in her 2012 and 2006 re-elections, this year’s candidates have little if any political experience. This is James’ first campaign for office, while Pensler unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. House years ago.

The Ivy League-educated Pensler, 61, of Grosse Pointe, is emphasizing his experience in the business world, where he advised large corporations on restructuring and later founded a buyout firm that owns and operates The Korex Cos., which manufactures detergents and cleaners at factories in Michigan, Illinois and Canada.

“I understand what incentives drive the economy — what leads to growth in jobs, what leads to business decisions to move plants,” he said. “How you turn around a business is just like what you need to turn around a government that is bloated.”

Pensler, whose pledge to put “Michigan first” echoes Trump’s “America First” trade policy, said it is not just a campaign mantra used in his TV ads but something he would take to Washington.

“Every time I vote, it would be, ‘Is this good for Michigan?'” he said.

James, 37, of Farmington Hills, is highlighting his business credentials and military service. The West Point graduate flew Apache helicopters in combat and led two platoons during the Iraq War. After being honorably discharged, he joined his father’s Detroit-based group of companies: James Group International Inc. He is CEO of Renaissance Global Logistics, which ships supplier parts to auto factories around the world.