GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The national political media — along with chambers of commerce and other GOP establishment types in Michigan, as well as their Tea Party counterparts — were watching two Republican congressional primaries closer than the rest on Tuesday.
Both featured congressmen who were backed by the Tea Party supporters in their districts on either side of the state of Michigan: Justin Amash on the west side of the state and Kerry Bentivolio in southeast Michigan.
Amash vs. Ellis
The campaign for Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District represented by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) got very personal.
So, Amash didn’t hesitate to name names after he won the primary 57-43 percent.
Amash went after former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who used to be chairman of the House Intelligence Committee while representing Michigan’s 2nd Congressional District and endorsed Amash’s primary opponent, businessman Brian Ellis.
“Lobbyist Pete Hoekstra: you are a disgrace and I am glad we could hand you one more loss before you fade into total obscurity and irrelevance,” said Amash.
Ellis, who loaned his campaign $1 million, spent most of that money pushing the idea that Amash was not conservative enough for his district, which was drawn to be as blazing Republican Red as possible.
He ran a series of 28 “Bizarre Votes” TV ads criticizing Amash’s record and one referring to Amash as “al-Qaeda’s best friend in Congress,” drowning out any attempt to explain what Ellis would do as the district’s new congressman.
To Ellis, Amash said, “You owe my family and this community an apology for your disgusting, despicable, smear campaign. I ran for office to stop people like you.”
Amash, who lost some choice House committee assignments because of his refusal to back Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), made it clear in his victory speech that vanquishing the “political elite” establishment in his district that includes Grand Rapids, Mich., is what his campaign was all about.
“With the number of establishment interest groups that were against me, this is a really gigantic margin of victory,” he told a cheering crowd. “People want us to stand up for liberty, freedom and the Constitution and said it loud and clear.”
Late in the campaign, the biggest newspaper in Amash’s district, The Grand Rapids Press, endorsed the two-term incumbent while at the same time taking a slap at his record of rebellion.
“Though Amash is at times independent to a fault, his efforts to change the culture of a broken Washington are welcome,” the paper’s editorial board wrote.
All of the other establishment players in Amash’s district, even the mayor of Grand Rapids, George Heartwell, endorsed Ellis.
However, Amash still had the support of the richest family in the district and one of the richest in the world, the family of Dick DeVos, one of the heirs to the Amway Corp. fortune.
Amash said endorsements and big money didn’t matter. In the end it came down to “lawn signs and grass-roots support. I think this is going to send shock waves through the nation.”
Ellis left a voicemail congratulating Amash on the win. On Election Night, Amash didn’t sound like he had any intention of returning that call.