By Bria Brown

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, who won a tough reelection race in the fall, will lead Democrats’ efforts in 2022 to expand their current razor-thin Senate majority.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced Thursday that Peters will head the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, calling him “hard-working, disciplined and effective.” The 62-year-old Peters, who is in his second term, is the first Midwesterner to hold the position in decades.

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Next year, Democrats will have chances to pick up seats in states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina and Wisconsin. Democrats also will need to protect incumbents in Georgia, Arizona, Nevada and New Hampshire in the midterms, when Republicans have an opportunity to break Democrats’ new monopoly on Congress.

“Someone who can win tough races in Michigan has an appreciation for what it takes to win in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio,” Peters told The Associated Press, saying he feels “very good” about Democrats’ chances in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. He also mentioned Ohio, where Republican Sen. Rob Portman this week announced he will retire.

The Senate is split 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tiebreaker for Democrats.

In November, Peters withstood a stiff challenge from top Republican recruit John James, winning by 1.7 percentage points in a state that Joe Biden reclaimed after Donald Trump won it four years earlier.

Peters was the only new Democrat elected to the Senate in 2014. He beat an incumbent House Republican in 2008 and survived a national GOP wave in the 2010 midterm election.

Peters expressed confidence that Democrats will still turn out in 2022 without Trump on the ballot.

“They want to see meaningful change. They want to see a party that’s focused on the issues that they care about,” he said, contending that voters will not forget Republicans’ mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic. “Americans are feeling the brunt of that. They’re going to see Democrats picking up the fight and moving forward for them.”

Democrats won in 2020, he said, with a focus on core economic issues — bread-and-butter issues such as jobs, health care and retirement. He said while Democrats could benefit from “disarray” within the GOP, it is up to Republicans to determine Trump’s influence.

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“You win races by running your own race and representing the people in your state. I’m confident our candidates are going to do that,” Peters said, adding that his No. 1 focus is reelecting Democratic incumbents.

Asked how voting to convict Trump at the Senate’s upcoming impeachment trial would help vulnerable Democrats on the ballot in 2022, Peters said: “This is about our democracy. This is not about partisan politics whatsoever.”

Trump incited a violent, deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol, he said.

“I certainly believe that in the end voters are going to understand that even though we may have partisan differences between the parties, neither party should ever cross the line of endangering this democratic republic,” Peters said.

He faces a daunting task. Since Ronald Reagan’s presidency, the party in control of the White House has gained Senate seats in only three midterm elections: 2018, 2002 and 1982. Democrats’ prospects could be further complicated after two years in which Biden will push a moderate agenda as the party’s left wing presses him on issues like climate change and immigration.

Peters pointed to his own electoral victories — such as the 2014 midterm, when he won an open seat as Republicans swept other top statewide offices.

“If folks know that you’re a battler for them, that’ll be the most important factor for them in their decision-making as to who they vote for,” Peters said.