Who is Gary Peters? 7 things to know about the Michigan senator

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Sen. Gary Peters, a Democrat, is fighting for a second term in the Senate against GOP businessman John James in the critical swing state of Michigan

Republicans believe they have a real pick-up opportunity in the Great Lakes State in their effort to maintain control of the Senate. But Democrats view holding onto Michigan as the first step in winning back the chamber for the first time since 2014.

“We have a real shot to take the majority in the United States Senate,” Peters said on Saturday. “But one thing we must do is we must win here. We must hold this seat.”

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., speaks at a rally for Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama at Northwestern High School in Flint, Mich., Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., speaks at a rally for Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama at Northwestern High School in Flint, Mich., Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

With the control of the Senate on the line, money has been pouring into the race. The Peters-James face-off is expected to top $100 million in spending, making it the most expensive election in Michigan’s history, according to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

Peters, 61, is a former congressman, Michigan state senator and former Michigan Lottery Commissioner. He’s pitched himself as a bipartisan bridge builder who gets real results for Michigan behind the scenes, in contrast to his charismatic and TV-ready opponent.

Here’s seven things to know about Peters. 

1) He was the only freshman Democrat elected to the Senate in 2014

Peters was a sitting congressman hardened by several tough previous elections when he beat Republican Terri Lynn Land in 2014 for the seat vacated by the retiring Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. 

His victory put him in a class by himself as the lone new Democrat. Republicans nationwide had a great year and won back control of the Senate so Peters was surrounded by celebratory Republicans in his freshman class. 

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Six years later, Republicans are now playing defense with a dozen incumbents now in competitive races. Peters is the only target for Republicans to go on offense with Tuesday, aside from Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., who entered the Senate surprisingly in a 2017 special election when he beat Republican Roy Moore, who was accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls.

Senator Gary Peters during the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Aug. 6, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Toni Sandys/Pool via REUTERS)

Senator Gary Peters during the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Aug. 6, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Toni Sandys/Pool via REUTERS)

2) Peters founded the bipartisan Senate Motorcycle Caucus

Peters is an avid motorcycle rider who founded the bipartisan caucus in 2017. He loves to campaign on his motorcycle too and embarks on a motorcycle tour of the state each year. 

The ride is over 1,000 miles from Detroit to the Upper Penisula and back.

3) He’s pushed back on Hunter Biden investigations in the Senate 

Peters is the top Democrat on the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. That means he sits opposite Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., the committee chairman, who has led the effort to investigate Hunter Biden, the son of the Democratic presidential nominee, over his foreign business dealings. 

Peters accused Johnson and Republicans of using the committee to try to manufacture dirt on the former vice president and to help President Donald Trump’s campaign. Peters said the Senate GOP’s report on Biden was rooted in a known Russian disinformation effort intended to spur investigations into false allegations of corruption. 

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Peters said in September — prior to the more recent New York Post Hunter Biden laptop revelations — that Johnson divided the committee during the coronavirus crisis and used taxpayer resources to generate “a partisan, political report that is rooted in Russian disinformation and intended to influence the presidential election.”

In this combination of 2018 and 2019 file photos are, from left, Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Republican U.S. Senate candidate John James. Money is abundant in Michigan's competitive U.S. Senate race between Peters and James. A campaign-finance expert projects spending will top a staggering $100 million by Election Day. (AP Photos)

In this combination of 2018 and 2019 file photos are, from left, Democratic U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Republican U.S. Senate candidate John James. Money is abundant in Michigan’s competitive U.S. Senate race between Peters and James. A campaign-finance expert projects spending will top a staggering $100 million by Election Day. (AP Photos)

4) Peters is a former Lt. Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve

Peters joined the U.S. Navy Reserve at age 34 and served from 1993-2000, attaining the rank of lieutenant commander. After the Sept. 11 attacks, he volunteered again for drilling status and served until 2005.

5) Peters was a big supporter of the 2008 auto rescue 

Peters, then a congressman, backed the Obama Administration’s 2008 federal rescue of General Motors and Chrysler that helped the Detroit automakers regain their footing.

Former President Obama highlighted that auto support in a campaign ad he cut for Peters: “When you’re president, you learn real fast who has your back, and in Michigan that was always Gary Peters,” Obama says in the ad. “Gary was there every step of the way. Helping save the auto industry, protecting the Great Lakes, covering pre-existing conditions.”

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6) He was the first sitting senator to publicly share a personal experience with abortion

In an interview with Elle magazine in October, Peters revealed a very personal story about his first wife’s struggling to get access to an abortion to save her life. Peters said he spoke up during the Amy Coney Barrett Supreme Court confirmation because he was alarmed by the threat she could pose to women’s reproductive rights. Peters voted against Barrett and President Trump’s other two Supreme Court nominees. 

7) He’s campaigning as a ‘workhorse’ of the Senate, not as a showhorse

Peters has embraced his unflashy persona. He says he didn’t get into politics to be on TV and he hopes Michiganders will appreciate someone who just rolls up their sleeves and gets work done. 

In one Peters’ campaign ad, a Michigan craft brewer Chris Andrus describes how Peters helped him cut through red tape to expand the Mitten Brewing Company. “I don’t think the senator is focused on flash,” Andrus says. “I think he’s focused on substance.”

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