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Mich. GOP Establishment Hopes for Rogers, Frets Over Amash Mich. GOP Establishment Hopes for Rogers, Frets Over Amash

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Mich. GOP Establishment Hopes for Rogers, Frets Over Amash

Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., is mulling a Senate bid.(Richard A. Bloom)

photo of Alex Brown
April 24, 2013

Longtime Michigan Republican operatives are open about their desire to see Rep. Mike Rogers run in the state's open-seat Senate race, but they're worried Rep. Justin Amash -- who possesses little regard for the GOP establishment -- won't let the possibility of a damaging primary derail his ambition for a seat in the upper chamber.

Rogers and Amash have been at odds in recent weeks, with Amash standing as the most vocal opponent to Rogers' CISPA cybersecurity bill. Following the arrest of Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Amash took to Twitter to call on law enforcement to Mirandize the suspect. Rogers hit the Sunday talk show circuit and defended the public safety exemption.

But perhaps most illustrative of the tension between the two camps comes from recent chatter that Amash is being pressured by Ron and Rand Paul to stay out of the Senate race. Amash, the thinking goes, would be better-served as the chief libertarian voice in the lower chamber, rather than risking his young career on a statewide race in which the Democratic nominee would likely be favored.

Amash could "pick up where Ron left off [in the House]," said one GOP consultant. "They can't afford to lose him. He is more valuable to them as an asset in the House than as a candidate for Senate."

Republican pollster Steve Mitchell echoed that sentiment. "I think the idea of being the libertarian voice in the House is very attractive if you couple that desire with the alternative of being out of Congress completely." Republican operative Dave Doyle added, "Does [Amash] really want to give this up after two years -- and do the Ron Paul folks really want to give him up after two years -- and possibly have nothing of it?"

That line of thinking, say Amash's allies, comes from people with no firsthand knowledge of his interactions, and likely amounts to a rumor campaign designed to undermine his support. "There's a hunger and an appetite for Justin Amash because he's that transpartisan libertarian," said Preston Bates, whose Liberty For All Super PAC has pledged at least six figures to boost Amash if he joins the race. "Even moreso than Rand, he's a guy who can run in a blue state and win. You think that Democrats in Michigan are going to vote for Mike Rogers? ... Mike Rogers is gonna get slaughtered."

A staffer for Amash also pushed back on the idea that the Pauls were pressuring him to stay in the House. "There's no basis in truth for that," the aide said.

As both camps push competing narratives, Republicans agree that the nomination has come down to a staredown between the two and may be determined by which man has more to lose. Many pointed to Attorney General Bill Schuette, who lost to Sen. Carl Levin in 1990 and has spent the years since fighting to reclaim his political status.

If Rogers were to run, he would have to give up his chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee, for which there are no term limits. Former GOP Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox downplayed that motivation, saying Rogers' ambition for higher office trumps his desire to make a meaningful influence in foreign policy. "If [Rogers] lost, he could make a lot of money in D.C. as a lobbyist," Cox said last week. "He's so full of [expletive] to begin with. He tells all these stories about being an FBI agent, and he was in the FBI for two years. Like he was J. Edgar Hoover."

Most Republican operatives, however, played up Rogers as a candidate. "Mike's a great campaigner, he's a great fundraiser," Doyle said. Others mentioned his charisma and ease in front of a camera, honed by regular TV appearances.

For Amash, the pros vs. cons list is more extensive. He has spoken of a desire to make his mark in the House, but his rocky relationship with GOP leadership has kept him from positions of power. The 33-year-old knows he already has a meaningful platform and plenty of time expand his influence, and a statewide bid in Democratic-leaning Michigan could put that in jeopardy.

Still, working with Rand Paul and allied senators in the upper chamber carries plenty of appeal. Amash won a seat in the state House while still in his twenties and launched a bid for the U.S. House after just one term. In a five-way primary, Amash earned a plurality as more-established GOP candidates split the mainstream vote. After that "meteoric" rise, Mitchell said, "you think, 'I can do anything, and the next step is -- why don't I become a U.S. Senator?'"

Calvin College political science professor Doug Koopman, a former Republican congressional staffer, said Amash "realizes he's young and he's got time," but he's still "very tempted." Said Koopman: "I would not be surprised to see him run."

The GOP field will be "frozen until Rogers makes up his mind," Mitchell said, but no one expressed hope that Amash would seek to avoid a primary. "I'm not sure Amash is going to be influenced one way or another by anyone at the [National Republican Senatorial Committee] or what leadership in the Republican Party in Michigan has to say," Doyle said. "If he wants to run, there's going to be a primary. If [Amash] runs, someone else will run; it just might not be Mike Rogers."

Mitchell added, "Amash thinks he can beat Mike Rogers even if [Rogers] gets in the race. ... If Rogers [runs], a lot of money's going to come in from Club for Growth and other organizations who don't like Mike Rogers."

Amash has not gotten any calls to bow out of the race, said the Senate aide. "They've dealt with him long enough to know that pressure doesn't work for Justin," he said.

Meanwhile, Democratic Rep. Gary Peters has emerged as the consensus Democratic favorite after party power broker Debbie Dingell decided not to join the race. The Detroit-area representative raised more than Rogers and Amash combined in the first quarter of 2013, though Rogers has more cash on-hand. Amash, though he trails in the early fundraising, has the ability to bring in plenty of outside spending.

While Democrats wait to see how the GOP power struggle plays out, neither side is holding their potshots until a Republican nominee emerges. "Peters is weak, he's eminently beatable, and if this is the best the Democrats can do, Washington [Republicans] should be looking at Michigan as a possible pickup," said GOP fundraiser Steve Linder.

Countered one Democratic source, "Gary has spent his whole life in Michigan and is the only candidate who has built trust with Michigan voters in the key area of Oakland County. After three tough election cycles, Gary is battle-tested with a strong base and grassroots network of support," said the source, who wouldn't speak on the record due to the preliminary nature of the race. "Gary leads the pack in sheer energy and momentum for his potential bid."

CORRECTION: A previous version of this post incorrectly described Amash as an "advocate" of Rogers' CISPA cybersecurity bill.

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