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Washington — The super political action committee with ties to House Speaker Paul Ryan has opened an office in southwest Michigan to help defend the seat of the state’s most senior Republican in Congress — U.S. Rep. Fred Upton.

Six candidates are competing in the Democratic primary in Michigan’s 6th District, hoping to take on Upton, who chaired the influential House Energy & Commerce Committee until he termed out in 2016. The St. Joseph lawmaker has been in office since 1987.

The Congressional Leadership Fund says the expansion is part of its national field program focused on making contacts with voters about their top issues.

The group says it has made over 10 million voter contacts since February 2017 and opened 34 field offices in “key” congressional districts, including Michigan’s 8th to help defend GOP Rep. Mike Bishop of Rochester.

CLF says each office is supported by a full-time staffer and “hundreds” of interns and volunteers who reach out to voters through “hyper-targeted” phone banking and door-to-door canvassing.

“To be successful in November CLF is focused on doing things differently and on building our hyper-targeted, data-driven national field program to help members win in November,” Corry Bliss, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.

“Having conversations with key voters across the country, the focus of our national field program, is going to be a major factor in maintaining the Republican majority this fall.”

Upton reported a campaign war chest of over $1 million as of March 31 but was outraised last quarter by Democrat George Franklin, a former longtime Kellogg lobbyist. Upton beat his last Democratic challenger by 22 percentage points in 2016.

Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia Center for Politics said it’s “something of a surprise” to see the Congressional Leadership Fund open an office to help Upton, but the group has a “ton” of money and is casting a wide net in terms of the districts it’s targeting.

“Upton remains a clear favorite for the fall, but he and many other Republican incumbents across the country are in for harder races than they are used to because of a challenging national political environment,” said Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball newsletter, which rates the race as “likely Republican.”

“And there likely will be at least a few Republicans who are caught by surprise this fall — in Michigan or in other places.”

Last year, Upton had considered a run for U.S. Senate, challenging Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow this fall, but decided against it.

The 6th District includes Berrien, Cass, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph and Van Buren counties and much of Allegan County.

The Democratic primary field includes Western Michigan University professor Paul Clements, who has lost to Upton the last two cycles; physician Matt Longjohn of Portage; Franklin of Glenn; Western Michigan University history professor David Benac of Kalamazoo; chemist Eponine Garrod of Portage; and biologist Rich Eichholz of St. Joseph.

mburke@detroitnews.com

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