Jewish businessman loses to Trump-backed pick in Michigan Senate Republican primary

Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Sandy Pensler, a Jewish businessman once considered a shoo-in for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Michigan, lost to a candidate who was provided a significant boost by President Donald Trump.

John James, 37, a businessman and former Air Force pilot, was doing unexpectedly well even before the Trump endorsement, and it seemed like the race would be close. But the presidential nod on the eve of the election sent James over the top, and on Tuesday he defeated Pensler, 55-45 percent, and now faces incumbent Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat.

A James victory in November would bring the number of African-American Republicans in the Senate to two. Tim Scott of South Carolina is the only black GOP senator.

“Congratulations to a future STAR of the Republican Party, future Senator John James,” Trump said late Tuesday on Twitter. “A big and bold victory tonight in the Great State of Michigan — the first of many. November can’t come fast enough!”

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James hit Pensler, who is 61 and was the establishment pick, on his support for abortion rights expressed decades ago, although Pensler said he had changed his mind on the subject.

Elissa Slotkin, a former CIA and Defense Department analyst who lives on a farm in the 8th District in southeast Michigan, handily won the Democratic primary and will face incumbent Rep. Mike Bishop, a Republican, in November. Slotkin, who is Jewish, last year told JTA she was running because of Bishop’s support of rollbacks of health care protections introduced under President Barack Obama.

She is among a number of female candidates that Democrats hope will galvanize opposition to Trump and help win back the U.S. House of Representatives in November.

A Michigan Jewish dynasty looks set to continue in the state’s 9th District, where Andy Levin appears to have won the Democratic primary for the seat to be vacated by his father, Sander Levin, who is now the dean of Jewish members of Congress. Levin’s uncle is Carl Levin, who retired in 2015 after 36 years representing Michigan in the U.S. Senate.

Andy Levin, 58, a former senior employment official in the state, is an environmental consultant.

In a first, Rashida Tlaib will likely be the first Arab Muslim, the first Arab woman and the first Muslim woman to serve in Congress. Tlaib, a Palestinian American, defeated five opponents in the Democratic primary for the Detroit area’s 13th District seat being vacated by veteran Rep. John Conyers, who earlier this year was felled by allegations of sexual harassment. No Republican is running, guaranteeing Tlaib a win.

Tlaib, 42, a former state representative, will not be the first Palestinian American in Congress. She was preceded by Justin Amash, a Republican who was unopposed in the 3rd District primary in western Michigan and is likely to be re-elected, and John Sununu, a former Republican senator from New Hampshire. Two Muslim men, both Democrats, are serving in Congress, and Arab-American men have served in Congress for decades.