Michigan Republican Senate candidate notes places 'I disagree with' Trump

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Republican John James, a rising star who is running in Michigan’s closely watched Senate race, underlined areas of disagreement he had with President TrumpDonald John TrumpGeorge Conway pens op-ed predicting Trump will lose Supreme Court case over tax disclosures Top intel official leaving post Eleven Secret Service agents test positive for COVID-19: report MORE, bucking a common trend among Republican down-ballot candidates who have sought to embrace the White House.

Speaking on a video conference with black community leaders last week, James was asked if there were topics on which he disagreed with Trump given the president has vociferously backed his Senate campaign. 

“Plenty, plenty of issues,” James said. “Everything from cutting Great Lakes funding to ‘shithole countries’ to speaking ill of the dead,” he remarked in an apparent reference to Trump’s broadsides against the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainFacebook says anti-Trump ad includes ‘partly false’ information For the Democratic Party — there’s a chance to win out West George Conway group targets McSally in new ad MORE (R-Ariz.).

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“I mean, where do you want to start?” he added. “And so, yes, there’s gonna be places that I disagree with the president, and those are just a couple.” 

James, who is challenging Sen. Gary PetersGary Charles PetersMcConnell: Battle for control of the Senate will be a ‘dogfight’ Democratic senator wants watchdog to probe Paycheck Protection Program Republican files signatures to run in Michigan Senate race, setting up primary battle MORE (D-Mich.), also pushed back against Democratic claims that he is being financially backed by Trump and Michigan power brokers, such as Education Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosThe Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden’s virtual campaign swings through Florida The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – In reversal, Trump says he won’t disband coronavirus task force Biden says he’ll reverse DeVos rule bolstering protections for those accused of campus sexual assault MORE.

“I haven’t gotten any money from Donald Trump. I haven’t gotten any money from Betsy DeVos. I haven’t gotten any money — that’s political talking points. Very little of that is true,” James said during the appearance.

While James has not received any direct financial funding from Trump or DeVos, DeVos’s family has donated heavily to a super PAC that is backing his Senate run.

James’s remarks were first reported by Politico and confirmed by The Hill.

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The comments come as James faces headwinds in his challenge to Peters, with polls showing the incumbent ahead of his challenger and Trump trailing former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenJudge denies bond to father and son arrested in Ahmaud Arbery shooting The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden’s Tampa rally hits digital snags Voter suppression could cost Democrats the election — here’s what they should do MORE in Michigan, a crucial battleground state.

However, James maintained he was not attacking Trump.

“I do recognize it as human to disagree with people, and like I’ve said millions of times, I can agree with the president without worshipping him. I can disagree without attacking him, and having somebody who can bring stuff back home because they have an ‘in’ with all branches and we have a voice regardless of whose in the majority or who is in the White House — that’s how we start to change things,” he said. 

“There’s plenty I disagree with the President on. There’s plenty I disagree with myself on. It’s called a mistake,” he added. 

A campaign official told The Hill that James supports the president and that his remarks should not be interpreted as an effort to distance himself from Trump.

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“John James is willing to tackle tough conversations with voters. He is his own man who will point out when he agrees with the president as well as respectfully point out when he disagrees,” campaign spokeswoman Abby Walls told The Hill. 

The campaign also pointed to remarks James has made throughout the race, noting that he will run his own campaign and that he is neither beholden to the White House nor attacking it, suggesting his most recent comments did not buck a personal trend.

“This race isn’t about President Trump,” James said during the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference in September. “This race is about people in the state of Michigan who’ve been failed by their leaders for generations. This race is about people who are hurting in this state, and I’m going to make this race about Michigan.”

He also said this month that Trump has “done everything that he has thought was best” in his handling of the coronavirus and noted during his failed 2018 campaign against Michigan Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowFocus grows on food processing plants amid new closings Senate Democrats urge administration to protect food supply and essential workers Democrats press USDA to create rural coronavirus task force MORE (D) that he was “2,000 percent” behind the president.

Still, other Republicans running in down-ballot races have been loath to utter a negative remark about the White House, in part in fear of drawing fire from the president, who retains a tight grip on the GOP base.

The Michigan Democratic Party seized on James’s recent remarks, saying they were evidence he was “changing his tone” on the White House. 

“A failed politician who says one thing in public and another behind closed doors will continue to be a failed politician,” said Michigan Democratic Party spokeswoman Elena Kuhn.

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