It's back to the drawing board for Michigan Republicans.
Rep. Dave Camp's announcement that he won't run for a Senate seat makes him the second top-tier Republican to tantalize party elders with the prospect of a candidacy, only to leave them crushed and grasping for a fallback plan.
"Over the past few months, I have received a lot of encouragement to run for the United States Senate. I have greatly appreciated and am deeply humbled by those calls and conversations," Camp said in a statement. "After much thought and careful consideration, I have decided not to run for the United States Senate."
Camp's rejection of a full-court press from Michigan GOP heavyweights represents a blow to the state party's hopes of fielding a top-tier candidate for next year's race, and is also a setback for national Republicans hoping to capture control of the Senate.
Already this year, several well-known Republicans—including Rep. Mike Rogers, the party's preferred candidate—have declined to run for Michigan's open Senate seat. Camp was viewed as the best remaining option to run against Rep. Gary Peters, the de facto Democratic nominee. Now Michigan Republicans will choose from a decidedly mediocre primary field led by former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land.
Almost immediately after Democratic Sen. Carl Levin announced his retirement in March, GOP leaders in Lansing identified two targets—Camp and Rogers—as their best bets to flip the seat in 2014. Both lawmakers were courted heavily and both agreed to consider a campaign. The next month, however, Camp told a roomful of reporters in Washington, "I'm not taking a serious look at the race." Camp, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, added: "I'm pretty busy.… I've got a big job. I'm committed to tax reform, and I'm going to work very hard to make it a reality."
Michigan Republicans then turned their attention to Rogers. Like Camp, he had seemed receptive to initial entreaties to run. But also like Camp, Rogers is the chairman of a powerful House panel—the Intelligence Committee—and hinted that his time-intensive chairmanship would be incompatible with a campaign.
Still, under intense pressure from a long list of loyal donors, Rogers agreed to seriously examine the race and deliver a swift decision on his candidacy. But then weeks turned into months, and Rogers remained silent, prompting Republicans who had been bearish on his candidacy to rethink their position. If he's not going to run, they wondered, why take this long to announce it?
Just as optimism began to grow, it became apparent why Rogers was taking so long: It gave the appearance of thorough deliberation when Rogers was consumed with a barrage of international affairs and giving no serious consideration to a Senate candidacy. People close to him—including his brother, state Rep. Bill Rogers—acknowledged that the congressman was claiming to "consider" the race because donors and party leaders had asked him to, not because he had any real interest in running. With that writing on the wall, Rogers finally announced in June what everyone now knew: He would not run for U.S. Senate.
At that point, it appeared as though Michigan Republicans would have to settle for an underwhelming field. Behind the scenes, however, a handful of party leaders were urging Camp to reconsider his dismissive words in April. With his chairmanship term-limited, they asked, wouldn't he rather take a shot at the Senate in 2014 rather than return to rank-and-file status in the House? In late July the pressure appeared to have made an impact: Camp told Politico that he was giving fresh consideration to the race, and had even discussed his prospective candidacy with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Former Michigan GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis viewed the development as a hopeful sign. With tax reform appearing increasingly unlikely, and Camp term-limited as chairman, it seemed the Senate race would be the logical move. "I'm really bullish," Anuzis said at the time. "The stars might be coming together."
Lansing insiders ramped up their full-court press, assuring Camp that because of his impressive war chest—containing upwards of $3 million—he could even wait until early next year to launch a campaign. That way, they reasoned, he could continue to focus on tax-reform efforts this year without being distracted by a Senate campaign.
But a distraction it had already become. Camp began fielding more questions about the Senate race than about tax reform, and by Friday, he decided he could not pursue both. "I will continue to put my full focus and effort on serving my constituents in mid- and northern-Michigan as their representative and as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee," Camp said in his statement. "That includes creating a stronger economy by making the tax code more effective and efficient, opening new markets for American goods and services, and critical oversight of Obamacare and the IRS."
Party elders now face a choice: Rally around Land, the longtime party loyalist who is personally likable but politically vulnerable; or pursue a nonpolitical person such as a self-funding businessperson who can claim "outsider" status in the primary and later against Peters. (Indeed, there is already chatter surrounding two such candidates—both unnamed—in the metro Detroit area.)
The remaining x-factor on the Republican side is Rep. Justin Amash, the libertarian lawmaker whose political profile has been raised recently due to the debate over domestic-surveillance policy. Amash has been considering the race since Levin's retirement, but Lansing insiders have no expectation that he will run. Amash has not given a timetable for his decision.