Democrat Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan is facing an increasing challenge from Republican candidate John James. Commissioned by the Detroit Free Press, EPIC-MRA survey that was released on Thursday shows that Stabenow now leads James, an Army officer veteran and political neophyte, by 7 points. Just last month, Stabenow was leading James by more than 20 points.

In a previous EPIC-MRA survey, James was trailing by 23 points. Other polls came up with similar results. Two polls noted by RealClearPolitics during the campaign in the Mitten State show a gap of a single gap between the two candidates. An average calculated by the website shows Stabenow at 10.7 points.

The surge in support for James is being attributed to President Trump’s approval ratings in Michigan, a state that he won in 2016. Republican voters are showing greater enthusiasm since Congress confirmed Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

In a fundraising appeal to supporters that James tweeted on Tuesday, he recalled Stabenow’s come-from-behind victory in 2000. "14 days out in 2000, Stabenow was down 14 & won," James tweeted. "14 days out in 2018 -> We’re 7 points away & closing in quickly! Donate NOW to help us keep surging in the polls!"

The EPIC-MRA survey contacted 600 likely 2018 midterm voters over October 18-23 period and has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

The Kavanaugh effect may have relevance for other races in Michigan. Other polls had shown a larger lead for progressive gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer. MRG -- a Republican consulting firm -- released a survey on Monday that gave the advantage of 14 points to Whitmer over Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, the Republican candidate. In the EPIC-MRA poll of September, Whitmer had an 8-point lead over Schuette, 45-37; 11 percent were undecided or would not say how they would vote.

But according to the newest EPIC-MRA poll, Whitmer, a Michigan Senate minority leader, would get 46 percent of the vote if the election were held today. Schuette, who comes from outside of the orbit of Detroit politics, would get 41 percent, according to the poll. Of those polled, 5 percent said they would vote for someone else and 7 percent were undecided or refused to say.

Local political pundits are crediting increased support for President Trump, and Schuette’s relentless ad campaign that has targetted Whitmer for advocating higher taxes, for the narrowing gap. The survey found that 43 percent of likely voters viewed Trump favorably: a hike from 40 percent in September. And 53 percent had an unfavorable opinion, down from 55 percent.

In Michigan, repairing roads and infrastructure is the biggest issue for voters, many of whom face long commutes into Detroit and suburbs over deteriorating roads. Schuette is drawing closer to Whitmer on the issue, having vowed to fix the roads without cutting taxes. He has not said exactly how much he would spend additionally on roads or where the dollars will come from. Outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder’s task force on roads estimated in 2016 that the state needs  an extra $4 billion a year spent on its infrastructure, with about $1.6 billion to $2.2 billion of that for roads and bridges.

Whitmer said she will ask the state legislature for increases in fuel taxes or user fees. Failing that, she plans to beg voter approval of a bond issue so that Michigan can spend an extra $3 billion annually on roads, bridges and other infrastructure needs. In September, White held a 47-33 lead over Schuette on the issue, but the later poll shows that they are at 44 and 43, respectively.

In a Tuesday release, the James campaign cited a poll by the Tarrance Group showing that the candidate had cut Stabenow's lead to seven points.

"The new poll, conducted by the Tarrance Group from October 20-22 with 605 likely voters (42% cell), shows Stabenow at 48, James at 41, with 4 percent choosing “other” and 7 percent undecided. Among those who are undecided on the ballot test, Stabenow is at a pure 1:1 favorable to unfavorable ratio, while James stands with a thirty-six percent (36%) favorable and 10% unfavorable rating. The margin of error was +/- 4.1 percent. (Memo from pollster)

"The new numbers come just days after polling in key Michigan congressional districts showed James with a slight edge over Stabenow in the 8th district, and tied in the 11th. The numbers also follow a Mitchell Research poll released twelve days ago showing James had cut Stabenow’s lead in half, from 18 points to nine. " The 8th District incorporates liberal East Lansing -- a suburb of the state capital and home to Michigan State University -- and leads east into rural areas of Oakland County, just north of suburban Bloomfield Hills, just north of Detroit.

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Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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