Jewish businessman loses Michigan primary to Trump-backed challenger
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Jewish businessman loses Michigan primary to Trump-backed challenger

Sandy Pensler, once considered a shoo-in, defeated by John James; Lena Epstein wins Detroit-area GOP nomination

In a photo from July 26, 2018, US Senate Republican candidate Sandy Pensler makes a campaign stop in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
In a photo from July 26, 2018, US Senate Republican candidate Sandy Pensler makes a campaign stop in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Sandy Pensler, a Jewish businessman once considered a shoo-in for the Republican nomination for US 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!”

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.

In this May 31, 2017, photo, Republican US Senate candidate Lena Epstein talks about her proposed tax changes outside the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference on Mackinac Island, Michigan. (AP Photo/David Eggert)

Another Jewish candidate, Detroit-area business executive Lena Epstein won the Republican nomination in the District 11 race. She bested four other Republicans in Tuesday’s primary.

Democrats are hoping to flip the district, which includes Detroit’s affluent northwestern suburbs. Although it has traditionally leaned Republican, Trump barely won the district in 2016.

In the past Epstein has praised Trump for his response to racism and violence.

A year ago her Twitter account was discovered to have been hacked after it showed that she liked several posts by white supremacist leader David Duke.

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.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, joined by Alice Wells, U.S. Ambassador to Jordan, right, and Elissa Slotkin, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, left, meets with Jordanian armed forces at the Jordan Armed Forces General Headquarters in Amman, July 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, Pool)

She is among a number of female candidates that Democrats hope will galvanize opposition to Trump and help win back the US 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.

First Palestinian woman in Congress

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.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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