The bitter battle for control of Michigan's hotly contested U.S. Senate seat continued late into the night Tuesday, with the numbers close and lots of early ballots still to be counted.
By early Wednesday morning, it was still too close to call: With just 57 percent of the precincts reporting, Republican challenger John James had 1.8 million votes, or 54%, and incumbent U.S. Sen. Gary Peters had 1.4 million votes, or 44%. Three other candidates split the remaining 2% of the vote.
Wrapping up a drive-in event in Pontiac late Tuesday, incumbent Peters told supporters they'll likely have to wait until Wednesday to get the final results in the race.
“It’s pretty clear we’re not going to know the results until tomorrow, a number of jurisdictions are still processing this massive amount of absentee ballots," Peters said.
The incumbent senator faced a tough challenge from James, who had run two years earlier unsuccessfully ran against Michigan's other U.S. senator, Debbie Stabenow.
Heading into Election Day, various polls showed Peters, a freshman senator, holding a slim lead over James, a Republican businessman running his second Senate campaign. According to RealClearPoltics, Peters was leading by an average of 5 points in various national polls, as of Oct. 20, 2020.
At the evening event in Pontiac, Peters said the tight race and voter turnout were indications of how important this election was.
I’m happy to say we have record turn out, it’s just amazing turnout," Peters said. "It certainly speaks to the importance of this election and how people all across Michigan understood it was vitally important for their voice to be heard."
Peters is one of two incumbent Democratic senators up for election in states that President Donald Trump won in 2016. Political experts said the outcome of the race would be crucial for the direction of the U.S. Senate.
Peters was elected in 2014, and prior to that, served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives.
He said he's one of the most bipartisan and productive senators in Congress. Peters said he's focused on leading Michigan's economic recovery, helping veterans and the environment.
"I'm ranked and passed more legislation in the last two years than any other senator, Democrat or Republican; things they need, protecting the Great Lakes, making sure vets get the help they need when they return back," Peters said.
James, a combat veteran and businessman, is vying for the Senate seat after losing his 2018 bid against U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow by six points.
"I believe partisan politics have broken this nation. We need to bring leadership to bare that is more focused people than politics," James said.
Peters has picked up endorsements from former President Barak Obama, Pete Buttigieg and Magic Johnson.
"It's about the issues. It's about the work that's been done in Michigan. It's about my record of being effective and getting things done," Peters said.
With a Senate majority on the line, both candidates are backed by big money donors funneling millions into attack ads. James has slammed Peters on the coronavirus and being an ineffective lawmaker.
Peters and James have raised more than $14 million each this past quarter, surpassing $70 million combined and making it the most expensive Michigan Senate race in history.
Peters has attacked James's stance on the Affordable Care Act. James wanted to repel and replace the ACA during his 2018 campaign.
Currently, James said, he's in favor of fixing aspects of the health care law but wants to keep protections for people with pre-existing conditions.
"We must always protect people with pre-existing conditions. I said that on Oct. 15, 2018, and I say the same thing. We must have a market-based, patient center approach that must protect people with pre-existing conditions," James said.
James has touted his independence from Trump, saying he's not afraid to call him out. We asked James if he approved of Trump's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. The disease has killed more than 200,000 Americans, including more than 7,000 Michiganders.
"I believe the president responded with the best he could, but the fact is I'm running against Sen. Peters," James said.
Both Peters and James stressed the need for bipartisan action to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I'm constantly pounding on the table for this administration to put together a comprehensive strategy, something that they have failed to do and folks are paying the price," Peters said.
"We need to bring results, and get badly needed relief for those who are most devastated by this COVID crisis. I would commit to helping the people rather than get myself elected," James said.