In an op-ed published in The Washington Post on the Fourth of July, Congressman Justin Amash announced that he was leaving the Republican party and becoming an independent. The announcement was unexpected but perhaps not altogether surprising. Amash, who has represented Michigan’s 3rd District in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2010, has been a longtime critic of President Trump and was the first (and only) Republican to call for impeachment proceedings against him. Following his call for impeachment, Amash quickly drew primary challengers who claimed he no longer represented his constituency. From there, Amash lost the support of the DeVos family, came under fire from the president and the RNC, and finally quit the conservative House Freedom Caucus in June.
As of Wednesday, Amash has drawn five Republican challengers and four Democratic challengers. The chaos surrounding Amash prompted forecasters at both Cook Political and Sabato’s Crystal Ball to move the rating of this historically solid Republican seat to a “toss up.” Is the seat, which voted for President Trump in 2016 by a 9-point margin, truly in danger of flipping though? AR/Intel pulled together the topline information you need to know about this suddenly competitive race.
AR/Intel Insiders: A full overview of the MI-03 race, including in-depth backgrounds, polling, and more, can be found in our updated Race Brief.
While it’s true that President Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in the district by nine points, the president only secured 51.6 percent of the vote. Amash has historically won reelection by double-digit margins, but presidential contests are usually slimmer; Mitt Romney beat President Obama by a 7-point margin while only taking 53 percent of the vote. Although the district carries an R+6 PVI, it’s perhaps a bit more “purple” than it appears.
There are five Republicans currently running to challenge Amash and at least one more contemplating a run. Two of the candidates, Jim Lower and Lynn Afendoulis, are both members of the Michigan state House of Representatives. Lower, who got into the race shortly after Amash’s call for impeachment, has served in the state House since 2016 and is the vice chair of the Tax Policy Committee. Afendoulis, who serves as the chairwoman of the Tax Policy Committee, is currently serving her first term in the state legislature after being elected last year. Afendoulis and Lower are joined by Peter Meijer, an Iraq War veteran and real estate analyst, and Tom Norton, also a veteran. Joel Langlois was the most recent Republican to jump into the race. Langlois is the president of several event space companies, one of which hosted a political rally for then-candidate Trump back in 2015 (a fact Langlois highlighted in his campaign announcement). One other possible entrant into the race could be Brian Ellis, an investment banker who ran an unsuccessful primary campaign against Amash in 2014.
The Democratic primary features four announced candidates, two of whom served in the Obama administration. Nick Colvin, who announced his candidacy last month, worked as a personal aide to then-Senator Obama before transitioning to a special assistant role on the Obama for America campaign in 2008. Colvin went on to work as a special assistant to the White House counsel from 2009 to 2011. Although she did not serve in the White House, Hillary Scholten served as a law clerk for the Board of Immigration in the Obama administration’s Department of Justice. She has been working as an immigration attorney at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center since 2017. Colvin and Scholten are joined by Doug Booth, a medical operations manager, and Amanda LeAnne Brunzell, a political consultant.
What The Forecasters Are Saying
Roll Call’s Nathan Gonzalez: “The 3rd District will elect a Republican under nearly all conditions. The question is whether 2020, with a former Republican congressman running as an independent, is enough of an anomaly to elect a Democrat with a plurality of the vote. Amash appeared to be hemorrhaging Republican support in the aftermath of his impeachment comments. A June 29-July 1 Strategic National poll showed the congressman with just 17 percent of the GOP primary vote… But Amash wouldn’t need to split Republican voters evenly with the GOP nominee to have an impact on the race. Even if he took 20 percent of the Republican vote, that would be enough to make the race uncomfortably close for GOP strategists.”
The Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman: “Sometimes party switches take, and sometimes they don’t. But Amash is the first House Republican to change party affiliations in almost 20 years, so it could be difficult to apply past lessons to our current polarized political era. In 2000, Virginia Rep. Virgil Goode left the Democrats to become an Independent, but he had long been very conservative, and Republicans didn’t field a candidate that year; he easily won reelection and joined the GOP the next cycle. In 2009, Alabama Rep. Parker Griffith stunned Democrats by switching to the GOP. But Republicans had just waged a vigorous campaign against him in 2008, and he lost the 2010 GOP primary. Amash’s situation is unique because he’s virtually guaranteed to have both a Democratic and Republican opponent in 2020. The question is how big of a market there will be for a pro-life, pro-impeachment outcast in the western Michigan electorate next year.”