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.
Bentivolio vs. Trott
A man who loves Santa and raises reindeer got run over by an attorney who got rich throwing people out of their homes in suburban Detroit.
Mother Jones used the headline “2014’s Weirdest GOP Primary: Santa vs. Scrooge” to describe the GOP primary in suburban Detroit between reindeer farmer Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich) and David Trott, an attorney who got rich by capturing the market on foreclosures in the Detroit area.
The way Bentivolio got into Congress is a little odd in itself. He is only there because former Rep. Thaddeus McCotter’s (R-Mich.) 2012 re-election campaign got caught up in a petition fraud scandal.
Bentivolio, one of the first Republicans to call for the impeachment of President Obama, has been painted as the oddest duck in the U.S. House by the Trott campaign, which also called him an “accidental congressman.”
Bentivolio and the Freedom Defense Fund PAC tried to fight back with ads that painted Trott as the Foreclosure King who threw old people out into the street.
Bentivolio was so furious with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s stand on immigration policy that he rejected an award from the Chamber a week before the primary.
He called the Chamber the “biggest pro-amnesty group” in the country.
“The Chamber of Commerce is beholden to special interests and has long since forgotten the main street businesses that struggle everyday to make payroll and keep their company afloat,” Bentivolio said. “It is with great pride that I reject their award, and call on them to stand on the side of America, instead of on the side of China and corporate interests seeking to exploit people for profit.”
Bentivolio never had a chance. Trott was declared the winner 96 minutes after the polls closed.
Trott blanketed Michigan’s 11th Congressional District with ads that painted Bentivolio as a Washington insider, even though the Tea Party favorite had only served one term in Congress.
An EPIC-MRA poll released July 15 showed Trott had a 22-point lead just two weeks before the primary vote.
That was even better than an internal poll conducted for the Trott campaign by National Research Incorporated and obtained by the publication Inside Michigan Politics that showed Trott with a 14-point lead.
Bentivolio, endorsed by Ron Paul, saw his campaign as being all about stopping “special interests, ‘pay-to-play’ antics, and back-room deals” that have “only benefited those with power.”
“I ran for Congress to join the other daring and valiant men and women in the Arena, to spread our message, and have more and more Americans join us. We desperately need more voices in D.C. to protect the rights of our families, our neighbors, our communities, our businesses, and our Free Republic.”
Trott, endorsed by Mitt Romney, echoed the former Massachusetts governor’s campaign theme of job creation.
“I am a businessman and, for more than 30 years, I have been a job creator. I have created and saved almost 1,800 jobs. I know what it takes to create good paying jobs for people,” said Trott, along with hitting the core issues that appeal to the GOP base.
He destroyed Bentivolio 66-34 percent. Trott faces the Democrats’ sacrificial lamb in November, Bobby McKenzie, who survived a four-candidate primary Tuesday.
So the man who dressed as Santa, raised reindeer and actually said he literally dreamed of impeaching Obama becomes the third House incumbent to fall in the 2014 primaries.
Bentivolio, preceded in defeat by congressmen Eric Cantor of Virginia and Ralph Hall of Texas, took his defeat more philosophically than Amash took his victory.
“I think he (Trott) spent $4 million,” Bentivolio told a WXYZ-TV reporter. “I have never had that much money spent on me in my life, so I am complimented.”
(For complete 2014 midterm coverage, get your campaign fix on The Grid.)