Nasty House Race in Michigan Brings al-Qaeda into the Mix

Grand Rapids, Mich., businessman Brian Ellis is doing everything he can to knock Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) out of Washington, D.C., even running an ad calling the two-term congressman “al-Qaeda’s Best Friend in Congress.”

But barring a tidal-wave shift in voter sentiment, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and the rest of the House GOP leadership will have to worry about firebrand, libertarian-leaning, Tea Party favorite Amash for another two years.

Without going all “Dewey Beats Truman,” the race for Michigan’s Third District congressional GOP nomination seems all but over with the days ticking down to the Aug. 5 primary.

A Democrat is running in November, but the real race is the GOP August primary. If Bob Goodrich, running without opposition in the Democratic Party primary, beats the winner of the GOP primary it would be an upset of epic proportions.

Ellis has picked up some big-name endorsements, the latest being the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and former Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who served as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee from 2004-06.

“Both candidates in the primary sought our endorsement, and the choice in support of Ellis on pro-growth issues was clear,” said Rob Engstrom, U.S. Chamber senior vice president and national political director.

“In today’s economy we need leaders who will advance policies that return our country to its full growth potential,” Engstrom said in a statement. “Brian’s private sector experience and proven conservative record makes him the clear choice for voters focused on job creation and free enterprise.”

Hoekstra, who upset a 13-term incumbent when he beat Rep. Guy Vander Jagt (R-Mich.) in 1992, in Michigan’s Second Congressional District, became another voice joining the Ellis choir in early July.

“Brian Ellis will be a strong partner with Michigan Republican Members of Congress to advance conservative solutions, including a balanced budget, keeping terrorists locked up in Guantanamo Bay, and defending the right to life,” said Hoekstra in a statement released by the Ellis camp.

“Brian Ellis will work to repeal Obamacare and stand up for our conservative values, and any claim to the contrary is nonsense. Bottom line, I strongly endorse Brian Ellis because he will be an effective conservative voice and a consistent conservative vote for solutions that will help hardworking Michigan taxpayers. Brian Ellis will not just talk conservative, but he will vote conservative,” added Hoekstra.

Not just talking conservative, but voting conservative has been a major campaign issue in the Amash-Ellis race for Michigan’s Third District congressional seat.

The Ellis campaign has issued press releases every week highlighting votes by Amash that they say are not conservative enough.

However, when it comes to the argument over who’s conservative enough, Amash picked up the biggest endorsement of the month. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) put his powerful name behind the Amash ticket in a radio ad that aired across West Michigan.

“Washington needs more conservatives with backbone—more conservatives like Justin Amash,” said Cruz in the ad.

Calling Amash “West Michigan’s principled conservative,” Cruz applauded Amash for his work to repeal Obamacare, defend the right to life, and stand up to the Obama administration.

“Ted Cruz is seen as a national leader in the conservative movement,” said Ben VanderVeen, a campaign spokesman for Amash. “It’s great to have support from guys like him.”

The Cruz endorsement came days after a poll conducted by Strategic National, a Grand Rapids-based company, showed Amash leads Ellis by 23 points, the widest margin to date in the campaign, 47-24 percent.

It was also a good fundraising spring for Amash. He raised $272,000 in the second quarter according to the Federal Election Commission, while Ellis loaned his campaign $400,000.

“Brian Ellis runs his campaign like he’d run our government: fueled by big spending, driven by lies, and loaded with debt,” said Connie Lemmink, communications director for the Amash campaign. “It turns out running on Obamacare expansion, Common Core, and NSA spying isn’t a winning strategy.”

Ellis is not giving up. With only days to go before Michigan’s Aug. 5 primary, the Ellis campaign began running the anti-Amash al-Qaeda ad.

The ad stars a former U.S. Marine, Ben Thomas, who accuses Amash of having the worst record in Congress on issues of concern to military veterans and says, “I am outraged by Justin Amash”

“We reached out to a network of local veterans to ask if someone would be willing to step forward about Amash's awful voting record when it comes to veterans and Ben offered to do so,” said Megan Wells, the communications director of the Ellis campaign.

Thomas won the casting call.

Wells also stressed that it wasn’t the Ellis campaign calling Amash “al-Qaeda’s Best Friend in Congress,” even though the statement is part of an Ellis campaign ad.

“The statement regarding Amash being al-Qaeda's best friend in Congress, is a direct quote from Congressman Devin Nunes (R-CA),” said Wells.

She’s right. Nunes went off on Amash in a May 2014 interview with Politico: “He’s (Amash) been fanning the flames, and it gets to the point where my assessment is this is a guy willing to work with San Francisco Democrats to protect bait fish, and at the same time he’s al-Qaeda’s best friend in the Congress."

The Tampa Bay Timespolitifact.com found that while Amash might have voted against his party’s leadership more than once, “we found two sources that showed that Amash has sided with Republicans upward of 80 percent of the time. That may be lower than many of his colleagues, and we found found a few high-profile examples of his voting against his own party. But by the numbers, he votes far more often with Republicans than Democrats.”

Joe Cunningham, one of the RedState.com bloggers, came to Amash’s defense June 6 when he wrote, “(It) seems to be a really petty attempt to knock down the young’un. … Apparently, party purity is only acceptable when it conforms with the Establishment views.”

(For complete 2014 midterm coverage, get your campaign fix on The Grid.)