By Jim EllisJuly 9, 2019 — Michigan Rep. Justin Amash (I-Cascade Township) officially left the Republican Party as the 4th of July approached, but what does his decision mean for the 3rd District’s political future?
Rep. Amash has served his whole career as a Republican, being first elected in an open congressional seat back in 2010 after winning a state House district in 2008. Though he left the GOP, he did not affiliate with the Libertarian Party, which many expected. Still, he has the option of running for that party’s presidential nomination even if he does not serve in Congress as a Libertarian.
But Amash’s decision clearly changes the congressional race. If he ultimately decides to seek re-election, his decision to leave the GOP is somewhat curious, at least from an electoral perspective. At this point, already four Republicans have announced, with at least three of them clearly credible. Two are sitting state representatives and one an heir to the Meijer retail store chain that features more than 200 stores predominantly in the Midwest. With no run-off required under Michigan election law, a large competitive field would have played to Rep. Amash’s favor since the contest would have been a base vote nomination election.
Should he decide to seek re-election as an Independent, then all bets might be off. Under the same premise that a crowded field could have helped Amash win a Republican primary, at least a three-way general election candidate field could conceivably allow him to win re-election in similar plurality fashion. But, either major party candidate might have the same advantage making this a wild card race.
Additionally, the three-way set-up could put what is typically a reliable Republican seat in play for the Democrats. Should Amash and the eventual Republican split the right-of-center base, it is conceivable that the Democratic nominee could find him or herself in position to score the plurality victory.
The Republican nominee holds the seat with less than a majority by eviscerating Amash with the right-of-center vote, thereby giving the official GOP candidate the possibility of winning his or her own plurality election.
Should Amash either run for president or decide to retire from the House, we would then expect an more crowded Republican primary to evolve with the eventual GOP nominee becoming a heavy favorite in the general election. The Democrats’ chances of taking this seat would likely be reduced to the bare minimum if Amash is not in the candidate field.
Except for venturing over to the Democratic column to support Barack Obama in 2008 (49.7 to 48.6 percent), the local electorate performs for the Republicans. Mitt Romney rebounded to score a 53-46 percent victory over President Obama here in 2012, and President Trump carried the district in the last national election by an even greater margin, 52-42 percent.
The 3rd District lies in western Michigan and is anchored in the cities of Grand Rapids and Battle Creek. It contains three full counties, three-quarters of Kent County, and a sliver of Montcalm around the city of Greenville.
Amash’s decision to jettison his membership in the Republican Party now suddenly makes this district one to watch not only in the Republican primary, but in the general election, as well.