Rep. Justin Amash, the Michigan Republican who has established himself as the leading libertarian in the House of Representatives, will not run for U.S. Senate in 2014, according to several sources familiar with the congressman’s decision.
Amash was tempted by the allure of a campaign for higher office, sources say, but the second-term lawmaker ultimately was unwilling to risk surrendering the clout he enjoys among conservatives in the GOP-controlled House. (His advisers also didn’t like the uncertain internal polling against his expected general-election contender, but sources say that didn’t affect Amash’s decision.)
Having entered the 113th Congress as a backbencher known primarily for bucking GOP leadership, Amash’s influence has increased dramatically in recent months, thanks mainly to his midsummer offensive aimed at defunding the National Security Agency’s controversial domestic surveillance programs. That effort failed by 12 votes, but Amash was lauded by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for his courage in challenging Washington’s most powerful institutions. In taking on the White House, the Pentagon and his own party’s leadership—and almost winning—Amash had suddenly cemented his status as a player in the lower chamber.
“Justin feels that he’s hitting his stride in the House, and that it’s the best place for him right now,” said one source close to Amash.
Amash first signaled interest in a Senate campaign back in March, when Democratic Sen. Carl Levin announced his retirement. Amid several months of bullish statements about the race, Amash launched a national mail campaign and began organizing fundraising events outside of his west Michigan district—typically sure signs of someone laying the groundwork for a statewide bid.
But as the summer months dragged on, Amash’s interest in the race began to wane. In June, he learned that his ideological adversary, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, was staying out of the GOP primary—robbing Amash of some of his incentive to run. Then, over the next month, Amash became consumed with the National Security Agency debate in Congress, devoting weeks of time and energy to the amendment he would later attach to the Defense Department appropriations bill. (Ironically, the NSA fight afforded Amash the showdown with Rogers he was hoping the Senate race would provide.)
By the time August arrived, Amash had thoroughly considered both sides of the race and was leaning strongly against running. But a final decision was repeatedly delayed, sources say, by Amash’s competitive streak. He conducted extensive internal polling that showed him running comfortably ahead of a weak GOP primary field, but the numbers on a general-election matchup were more muddled. Both he and Rep. Gary Peters, the de facto Democratic nominee, were unknown to many voters statewide, and that lack of definition was troublesome to Amash’s trusted circle of advisers. They used the numbers to justify the conclusion Amash had all but reached: Giving up his House seat to run for Senate was not a risk worth taking to win a Democratic seat in a state that has trended blue in recent elections.
Amash ultimately agreed, and in the last 48 hours finalized his decision not to run.
Amash joins Rogers and Reps. Dave Camp and Candice Miller on the list of high-profile Michigan Republicans to pass on the Senate campaign, leaving former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land as the only prominent GOP candidate in the race. Land lives in Amash’s district, and the two have a professional relationship. But Amash, according to sources, has not yet determined whether he will endorse Land.