August 5, 2014 at 1:00 am

Amash holds off GOP challenger; Moolenaar wins in bid to replace Camp

U.S. Rep. Justin Amash beat challenger Brian Ellis in a west Michigan congressional primary that symbolized the Republican establishment’s attempt to rid itself of tea party upstarts.

Ellis loaned his campaign $1 million in his bid to knock off Amash, a libertarian-minded Republican who often bucks the GOP establishment in a Republican-leaning district that encompasses Barry, Calhoun, Ionia and most of Kent counties.

In an open Republican congressional primary in mid-Michigan, state Sen. John Moolenaar defeated Saginaw County businessman Paul Mitchell to become the likely successor to retiring Rep. Dave Camp, R-Midland.

Moolenaar had 51 percent of the vote, while Mitchell had 37 percent with 12 percent voting for Roscommon-area software consultant Peter Konetchy.

“John Moolenaar’s strong conservative record in Lansing and his commitment to the citizens of Mid and Northern Michigan resonated today with voters,” said spokesman Fred Wszolek for Jobs and Opportunity, a super political action committee backing the state senator.

Mitchell, a longtime Republican donor, loaned his campaign nearly $2 million to bankroll a multi-market TV advertising blitz across the expansive 15-county 4th Congressional District, which stretches from DeWitt north to Cadillac and east to West Branch.

“I called John Moolenaar and congratulated him on his win tonight,” Mitchell told supporters at an election-night gathering at Bucks Run Golf Club in Mount Pleasant. “I told him I will support the Republican ticket in the fall.”

In his concession speech, Mitchell also said Republicans must fight for conservative principles in Washington D.C.

Moolenaar will meet Democrat Jeff Holmes, an Alma physician, in the Nov. 4 general election.

Mitchell had campaigned hard against Moolenaar’s record in the Legislature, sending out daily missives for the past month scrutinizing one of 160 votes Moolenaar took that he said resulted in higher tax bills or fees for Michigan residents and businesses.

The race intensified in the final week as Moolenaar launched TV ads attacking Mitchell for donating money to Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, and taking $100,000 in taxpayer funds for one of his businesses from President Barack Obama’s 2009 economic stimulus program.

Moolenaar, of Midland, received hometown support from Camp and Attorney General Bill Schuette. Camp appeared in a television ad for Moolenaar, while Schuette campaign across the district with him Monday.

Former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, a 2012 Republican candidate for president, also came to Moolenaar’s assistance with a late endorsement.

The seat is rated safe Republican by the political handicappers at Inside Michigan Politics, with more than 55 percent of the base electorate voting for Republicans in statewide education races over the past four election cycles.

3rd Congressional District

Ellis’ ad campaigns targeted Amash’s “bizarre” votes on issues ranging from gender selection abortions to the Keystone XL pipeline and closing the terrorist detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Amash, one of the top fundraisers in the U.S. House, attempted to fend off a steady stream of attacks from Ellis with his own campaign war chest and help from the conservative group Club for Growth and a radio ad endorsement by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

In radio and television ads, Amash’s campaign painted Ellis as a liberal for supporting federally-approved common core education standards and Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s expansion of the Medicaid health insurance program for the poor.

1st Congressional District

In northern Michigan’s 1st Congressional District, incumbent Rep. Dan Benishek beat Republican tea party challenger Alan Arcand 70 percent to 30 percent, with 90 percent of precincts reporting.

Arcand, a video rental store owner in Iron River, had branded himself a tea party challenger to Benishek, who, ironically, was swept into office in 2010 by the conservative, limited government movement.

Arcand had been aggressively campaigning across the 1st District, which includes 17 counties in northern Lower Michigan and the entire Upper Peninsula.

Benishek will face Democrat Jerry Cannon of Traverse City, a retired Army officer and veteran of the Vietnam and Iraq wars. National Democrats hope Cannon can knock off Benishek in the general election after the incumbent squeaked by in 2012.

Other races

In other primaries:

■ U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, fended off a challenge from Douglas Radcliffe North of Jackson in southern Michigan’s 7th Congressional District. Walberg will face former state Rep. Pam Byrnes, D-Chelsea, in the general election in another contest national Democrats have their eyes on in an effort to flip the seat.

■ U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, sailed to victory in a Republican primary against Jim Bussler of Dowagiac in southwest Michigan’s 6th District. He faces Kalamazoo Democrat Paul Clements on the Nov. 4 general election ballot.

■ U.S. Reps. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township; Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township; Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak; and Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, faced no primary opposition.

gheinlein@detroitnews.com
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In northern Michigan's 1st Congressional District, incumbent Rep. Dan ...

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