Justin Amash candidacy injects uncertainty for Trump in key swing state of Michigan


In interviews with CNN, there was a collective shrug of many Republicans in Great Lake State, and during the presidential campaign, whether the opportunity Amash would somehow shake up efforts to win Michigan again for Trump and the GOP. Still, if Amash earned just a fraction of the more than 169,000 votes he won in his district in 2018, the White House Third Party bid could affect the outcome of who wins Michigan – and with that, maybe the White House. There is a possibility some Republicans in the state say their party should take seriously.

"Obviously with a state as close as it was last time, everyone thinks that darn near anything can have an impact," said David Doyle, a former Michigan GOP board chairman.

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A persistent Democratic state that narrowly swung to Republicans four years ago, Michigan favored Trump over Hillary Clinton by just more than 10,000 votes. With Joe Biden holding a small but significant lead over Trump in the polls there, counts every last vote. Amash, a Republican five-time congressman last year, has won large majorities in his Western Michigan district as a Republican.

Doyle and several other Michigan Republicans told CNN that an Amash candidacy would more likely hurt Biden by sharing a small part of the vote against Trump. Republicans in the state, consistent with national trends, remain fiercely loyal to Trump.

Amash is not exactly a big player in the Michigan GOP, and it's possible his decision to leave the party has caused too many of his former supporters to sour him. Michigan Republicans say Amash would face an uphill battle if he ran for reelection in his solid GOP house around Grand Rapids.

"He has burned many bridges with the Republican Party in West Michigan," said Pete MacGregor, a GOP state senator from Kent County.

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Since Trump's picky victory there in 2016, the GOP and Trump campaign have spent time and resources holding onto Michigan.

The Trump campaign currently has 50 paid employees on the ground in Michigan. They say they have made 2.1 million voter contacts, including 1.2 million phone calls since moving to a 100% virtual campaign on March 19. They boast more than 1,300 volunteers in the state.

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"The difference between winning and losing for us in 2016 ended up being about 100 voters per congressional district," said Rick Gorka, a Trump Victory 2020 spokesman, the joint fundraising committee between the campaign and the Republican National Committee. "It's a tier-one state for us and one we basically never stopped our work in."

For the campaign, the focus is on drawing distinctions with Biden. Amash, they say, is not even on the radar.

"We spend zero time talking about him," said Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh. "The only time I talk about Justin Amash is actually when reporters call to ask me about him."

The Trump campaign also says Amash would help pull votes away from Biden. On Twitter, the president has mocked Amash's potential candidacy and said he "likes[s] him even more than Jill Stein "- a reference to the 2016 Green Party presidential candidate that some Democrats say cost Clinton a crucial vote.

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But veteran GOP operator John Truscott says he thinks it's a "huge mistake" for the president's team to believe Amash will have no more appeal to Trump voters than potential Biden voters. Truscott said Amash has also cultivated good relations with its constituents, who can reward them with their votes for president.

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"There's always a small, small percentage of voters who say chaos out there throws out the current guys," said Truscott, former Michigan spokesman John Engler. "The Amash voter is a lot more independent, a lot more freedom, maybe more contrarian."

Amash's spokeswoman did not answer questions for this story. At State of the Union last week, CNN's Jake Tapper asked Amash about the possibility that his entry could "ruin" the race for either Trump or Biden.

"We don't know how the additional candidate changes a race. It's too impossible to figure out. There are too many calculations involved," Amash said.

Despite being the third largest national party, the libertarian presidential candidates rarely get over 1% support nationally. In 2016, Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson set the high watermark for his party at just over 3% nationally, or nearly 4.5 million votes. But Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, outperformed his home state by getting more than 9% of the vote, and likely prevented Clinton from winning a direct majority in a state that had long held a Democratic role.

Could a favorite-son status boost Amash in a similar way in swing state Michigan?

"I don't think anyone knows at this time," Doyle said. "Nobody thought Trump would win Michigan last time."

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