Another Setback for Republicans: Dave Camp Won’t Run for Senate

The Michigan lawmaker is the second high-profile prospect to crush the hopes of state-party elders.

Camp: The real talk of the town.
National Journal
Tim Alberta
Aug. 16, 2013, 8:43 a.m.

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.

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