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Michigan Republicans line up to keep Justin Amash's seat in the party

Simone Pathé, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Michigan Rep. Justin Amash may be making new friends in Washington, with some Democrats suggesting the Republican-turned-independent help prosecute President Donald Trump at his Senate impeachment trial.

But back in Michigan's 3rd District, Republicans -- including those who supported him or donated to him the past -- are competing to replace Amash to help the party regain a seat that has safely been in its column.

Amash isn't backing down. Despite previously leaving the door open to a presidential bid, the five-term congressman confirmed to CQ Roll Call last week that he's still planning to run for reelection as an independent.

The potential for a three-way race that includes a longtime incumbent has excited some Democrats who see an opportunity if Republicans in the district divide their votes between Amash and the GOP nominee. After Amash left the Republican Party last summer, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added the 3rd District to its list of targeted seats.

There's a Democratic legacy in this district -- former President Barack Obama narrowly won it in 2008. But it's since swung to Republicans, with Trump carrying it by more than 9 points in 2016. House Democrats flipped similarly conservative areas in 2018, but that could be harder with Trump on the ballot this year.

One thing Democrats and Republicans agree on about this race: Amash isn't likely to survive. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Leans Republican, reflecting a small chance that a Democrat prevails.

 

Elected to Congress in the 2010 tea party wave and a co-founder of the hardline conservative Freedom Caucus, Amash has long been a thorn in the side of GOP leadership, opposing spending and defense policy bills. Leadership hasn't hesitated to punish Amash -- after the 2012 elections, for example, the GOP Steering Committee voted to remove him from the Budget Committee -- and national Republicans are ready to take him out.

Even before Amash left the GOP, he faced opposition. In 2014, businessman Brian Ellis challenged Amash in a primary with the backing of the state Chamber of Commerce. Ellis ran ads referencing California Rep. Devin Nunes' accusation that Amash was "al Qaeda's best friend in the Congress." Amash is the son of a Palestinian refugee father and Syrian immigrant mother.

Amash defeated Ellis by 15 points. But the help he used to have from the anti-tax Club for Growth isn't there anymore. The low-tax, small-government advocacy group, which spent against Trump in the 2016 presidential primary, has now come around to the president's side. The Club told CQ Roll Call it's unlikely to get involved in any capacity in the 3rd District race this year.

"Amash's appeal is the Libertarian Republican, and now that he's politicized his position with regard to impeachment, it cheapens his value," longtime Michigan-based GOP consultant Saul Anuzis said.

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