Potential Amash bid could hurt Biden in Michigan
Washington — Republican Rep. Justin Amash could play spoiler for the presidential race in Michigan, with his potential bid luring independent voters from the Democratic candidate in 2020, according to a new statewide survey.
The poll conducted last week of 600 likely Michigan voters and released to The Detroit News and WDIV-TV pitted Amash, a libertarian Republican who endorses impeaching Trump, in a hypothetical three-way White House race against Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.
The survey found that Amash would draw nearly 10 percent of the vote in Michigan if he ran as a third-party Libertarian, while Biden received 45 percent and Trump 39 percent. Six percent were undecided.
The poll, conducted May 28-30, had a margin of error of plus-minus 4 percentage points.
Amash, who represents the Grand Rapids area in Congress, basically reduces Biden's lead if he's on the ballot: In a traditional head-to-head match-up, Biden led Trump by 12 percentage points, but the lead narrows to 6 percentage points when Amash is included in the field.
"This is, frankly, a somewhat startling finding. I think conventional wisdom would say he would hurt President Trump by taking away Republican votes," said Richard Czuba, who conducted the poll for the Lansing-based Glengariff Group.
"He will not take away Republican votes from Trump. What he will do is give independent voters who don’t want to support President Trump an outlet to not vote for the Democrat. And if you look at who or what would be moving toward Amash, it is particularly independent men."
Biden's lead among independent voters falls from 13 percentage points to a tied race with Trump when Amash is among the options, with Amash drawing 16 percent of independent voters' support, according to the survey.
"He’s not burning the house down or anything, but he’s siphoning off enough votes that it’ll make it a closer race in Michigan if he is on the ballot," said Czuba, who was surprised by the results.
"It is frankly somewhat of a lesson for the Democrats in their effort to defeat the president. The more the effort gets diluted, the more Democrats start walking away from the process, the greater the avenue is for Trump to do what he did in 2016," Czuba said.
Amash, 39, has not ruled out running for the White House on the Libertarian ticket but, as he says, he generally doesn't rule things out.
He recently told The Detroit News he plans to run for reelection to his House seat in 2020 and has seen no sign of a Libertarian effort to recruit him to a presidential run.
The fifth-term congressman made national headlines in recent weeks after becoming the first and so far only Republican in Congress to publicly say Trump's conduct met the "threshold of impeachment" based on the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller's report.
Trump fired back by calling Amash a "loser" and "not much."
GOP leaders criticized and dismissed him as a marginal member of the Republican conference seeking media attention, though Amash turned down a flurry of requests for media interviews and TV appearances in lieu of making his arguments via Twitter.
Amash said during a town hall in Grand Rapids last week he was "appalled" by the conduct described in Mueller's report and that Congress can "not allow misconduct to go undeterred."
“I would do it whether it was a Democratic president or a Republican president. It doesn’t matter to me. You elected me to represent all of you," Amash said.
Amash was asked at the town hall if his impeachment comments were a prelude to a third-party White House run. He responded that, “if I were trying to roll out something like that, this is not how I would do it.”
Amash’s district voted for Trump in the 2016 presidential election. Asked about Amash potentially running for president, Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway last week said, “Amash can do what he wants.”
"We know that director Mueller and his team had all the latitude and no interference, no obstruction from this president, from this place,” Conway told reporters at the White House.
“We certainly haven’t talked about somebody who wants to go get single digits in the presidential race.”
Michigan voters' impression of Trump, as well as his approval rating, have remained largely unchanged during the last two years, including last week's survey.
Nearly 37 percent of voters had a favorable view of Trump, compared with 54 percent unfavorable. About 44 percent approve of the job the president is doing, while 52 percent disapprove.
“President Trump will win Michigan again on the booming economy and on his record of bringing back manufacturing jobs as promised," Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said.
"Once voters find out that Democrats support eliminating their private health insurance while also funding health care for illegal immigrants, they will see the choice is clear.”
Czuba doubted that other third-party hopefuls such as former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz could have as much of an impact in Michigan as Amash could.
"Amash I think has a special cache in Michigan because of the headlines he’s been getting, his position in West Michigan, so I think he’s a more localized carrier avenue for those independents, and maybe Schultz doesn’t have that benefit," Czuba said.
On a generic ballot test, where voters were asked if they would vote for an unspecified Republican or a Democrat in the state House if the election were held that day, Democrats held a 9 percentage point lead.
The margin is consistent with the Democratic advantage heading into the 2018 midterm elections, Czuba said.
Staff Writer Jonathan Oosting contributed