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Health care, tariffs key issues in Michigan Senate race

President Trump's policies are front and center in Michigan's Senate race. Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow is facing off against Republican businessman John James, who won the support of Mr. Trump in the primary.

But in a debate Sunday, James appeared to distance himself from the president.

"President Trump remains incredibly unpopular in Michigan," said Kathy Gray, reporter for the Detroit Free Press. "His approval rating is in the mid-30s, so a lot of the Republican candidates who certainly trumpeted his endorsement in the primary are stepping away from that for the general election."

Health care has emerged as one of the biggest issues, not just in Michigan, but in other midterm elections. Stabenow used that against James, saying Republicans want to "gut" the health care system that covers people with pre-existing conditions.

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Michigan Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow is facing off against Republican John James.

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"The reality is right now, what's being done — both the proposals supported by my political opponent, what the White House is doing with the rules — is putting health care back in the hands of insurance companies. Where they're going to be able to decide if you have a pre-existing condition, which is half the families in Michigan, are you going to be able to get covered and are you going to have to pay more? The chance that that is true is very, very high," Stabenow said.

James denied the allegations and accused Stabenow of advocating for a "full government takeover of your health care." Stabenow called his claim that she supports single-payer health care "ridiculous."

Tariffs are another big issue for Michigan voters, since it could impact the state's farmers. Gray said Stabenow has had the support of farmers in the past, with some even appearing in her ads.

"She's been a primary author of the annual farm bills and she's well received in the agriculture community. And with the tariffs, that's an issue that very well could hurt Michigan farmers and so there are many of them who are supporting Senator Stabenow and her opposition to President Trump," Gray said. "Although, she has been fairly supportive of the renegotiated NAFTA deal so that's one thing that's always kind of a sticky issue in Michigan."

In their debate, James focused on trade, saying Mr. Trump accomplished "more in modernizing NAFTA and normalizing our relationship with the (European Union) in 20 months than you were able to in 20 years in Washington."

Stabenow has spent 43 years in elected office. If James wins the election, he would be the first African-American senator from Michigan. Gray said he has gained a lot of support from fellow Republicans, and has even raised more than $3 million in the last quarter. But he's also down in the polls.

"The closest he's gotten so far in all of the polls is about nine points and he's down as by as many as 15 or 16 in some of the polls. So we'll see if he'll be able to make that up," Gray said.

Stabenow and James will have another debate Monday.