Ratings change: Michigan seat less vulnerable for GOP with Amash exit

Trump won district by 10 points while Stabenow and Whitmer lost there

Independent Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan is pursuing the Libertarian Party nomination for president instead of another term in the House. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Independent Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan is pursuing the Libertarian Party nomination for president instead of another term in the House. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted April 29, 2020 at 3:40pm

There’s no love lost between Justin Amash and House Republicans, but the Michigan congressman gave the GOP a parting gift with his run for president.

Amash’s departure from the Republican Party last year decreased the number of seats Republicans currently control in the House by one and increased the number of seats Republicans need to gain in November for a majority by one (to 18).

If Amash had run for reelection as an independent in the 3rd District, he would have complicated the math for the GOP nominee by potentially receiving votes from people in western Michigan who have been used to voting for Amash as a Republican for nearly a decade. It could have allowed Democrats to win the seat with a plurality of voters.

With Amash running for president as a Libertarian, the 3rd District race should return to a more normal partisan matchup. That’s good news for Republicans considering Donald Trump carried the district 52 percent to 42 percent in 2016.

Republicans are wading through a competitive primary, scheduled for Aug. 4. Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran Peter Meijer, whose family also owns a chain of Midwest grocery stores, was the frontrunner in fundraising with $634,000 in the bank on March 31. GOP state Rep. Lynn Afendoulis had $248,000 cash on hand. Likely Democratic nominee Hillary Scholten, an attorney, had $259,000 in available funds.

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According to Democrats, this is still a serious takeover opportunity. They believe Amash might have siphoned anti-Trump votes from Scholten and are encouraged by the trend of the district, considering Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s performance in 2018.

But Whitmer lost the 3rd District (albeit by less than half of 1 point, according to Daily Kos Elections) while she won statewide by 9 points. And Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow lost the 3rd by 4 points to Republican John James, even though she won statewide by 6 points.

If Democrats are running neck-and-neck in House seats that Trump won by 10 points in 2016, then there are a few dozen other GOP districts that should be rated more vulnerable. That could happen in the next six months, but there’s not enough evidence that the president’s support has dipped that far yet.

For now, Inside Elections is changing its rating of the race in Michigan’s 3rd District from Tilt Republican to Lean Republican.

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst with CQ Roll Call.