Lacking a top-tier candidate for next year’s U.S. Senate race, Michigan Republicans are executing a full-court press aimed at convincing Rep. Dave Camp to run for the open seat—and it appears the pressure campaign may be getting results.
After all but ruling out a Senate bid earlier this year, Camp is now seriously considering jumping into the race at the behest of power-brokers back home, according to sources familiar with the congressman's thinking. A small but influential group of Michigan GOP leaders has cranked up the heat on Camp, making the case that he could appeal to independents statewide and win the seat. Camp, they say, has been increasingly receptive to their appeals.
"He's been getting a tremendous amount of encouragement from leaders and donors around the state," former Michigan GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis said. "If you hear enough of that, it becomes tough to ignore." Noting Camp’s newfound openness to the idea, Anuzis added: “I’m really bullish.”
It seems he has reason to be.
On Tuesday, Camp told Politico that he has spoken with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell about the race, adding: “It’s a big decision, and I’m going to look at it very carefully and thoughtfully.”
That’s a sharp departure from April, when Camp told a roomful of reporters in Washington, "I'm not taking a serious look at the race.”
This was an immense disappointment to Michigan Republicans, who after learning of Democratic Sen. Carl Levin’s retirement back in March immediately targeted Camp and his GOP colleague, Rep. Mike Rogers. They were the most attractive candidates, but as party leaders soon learned, also the most unlikely. Both serve as chairmen of powerful congressional committees—Rogers on Intelligence, and Camp on Ways and Means—and, as Rogers explained in June when announcing he wouldn't run, leading a major committee isn't exactly conducive to simultaneously running for Senate.
Camp had sounded a similar note months earlier, telling reporters in April: “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."
Indeed, just as Rogers is swamped with domestic-surveillance policies and complex international affairs, Camp has been consumed with a bipartisan effort to reform the tax code. For months, Camp and his Senate counterpart, Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., have been strategizing to push a proposal through Congress. They even launched a "roadshow" to talk about tax reform in the states, making visits to places like Minnesota and New Jersey.
But there's one major difference in the respective decision-making processes of Rogers and Camp: Rogers does not face term limits as chairman of his select committee; Camp is serving his last term at the head of Ways and Means, and will be giving up his gavel anyway at the end of 2014.
Party leaders can't say with any certainty how that calculation is affecting Camp's thinking. They will acknowledge, however, that it’s given them an opening to argue the merits of running for higher office. Rather than returning to rank-and-file status in the House after 2014, they say, why not take a shot at the Senate?
Part of their case is timing. According to Anuzis and several other Republicans familiar with Camp's thinking, there is a finite period in which tax reform can actually pass. If Camp and Baucus can't get something done this year, they argue, it will be virtually impossible to pass an overhaul of the tax code in an election year with outside groups and lobbyists breathing down lawmakers' necks. If that proves to be true, and Camp realizes his push is going nowhere in the new year, it would be convenient to quickly pivot to the Senate race.
"There's a practical political window for tax reform that closes at the end of the year; that timetable works very well if Camp wants to run for Senate," Anuzis said, adding: "The stars might be coming together."
Of course, Republicans would like to coalesce around a preferred candidate much sooner than next year. The de facto Democratic nominee, Rep. Gary Peters, has been barnstorming the state raising money and assembling a campaign infrastructure. But with Camp, a proven fundraiser who has more than $3 million in his House war chest—funds that can be transferred to a Senate campaign account—Republicans are confident that a late start would not be crippling. In fact, if he does run, party leaders say, the Ways and Means chairman would quickly clear the Republican primary field.
Still, some Republicans familiar with Camp's thinking say too much is being made of Camp’s fresh comments about considering a run. According to one person close to the congressman, he was asked about his meeting with McConnell and simply "answered honestly" that they had discussed the Senate race. "I think people are reading too much into this," the source said, arguing that Camp's tone on the Senate race hasn't changed much since April.
Whatever his thinking, it's clear that Camp has emerged as the last best option for a Michigan GOP that hasn’t won a U.S. Senate race since 1994. Of the current and prospective candidates, only former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land has significant name recognition and political experience. But Land is not seen as a top-tier political prospect, as evidenced by Lansing insiders pressuring Camp to run. Another member of the Michigan delegation, Rep. Justin Amash, is still considering the race, but the libertarian's candidacy would not embraced by establishment Republicans.
Camp has given no timeline for a decision, and his office would not elaborate on Tuesday's remarks.
This article appears in the August 1, 2013 edition of NJ Daily.