Scalise endorses Meijer in GOP primary for Amash seat in Congress

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — Top-ranked House Republicans are lining up behind candidate Peter Meijer in the GOP primary for the West Michigan seat of U.S. Rep. Justin Amash.

House Minority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana on Wednesday endorsed Meijer after Meijer last week picked up the backing of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican. 

"Peter has dedicated his entire life to serving his community and his country," Scalise said in a statement. 

“I look forward to having him in Congress to not only help us regain the House majority for the Republicans, but also to put our shared conservative values into action while making a positive impact on the lives of folks back in MI-03.”

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise

Meijer, a U.S. Army veteran and grandson of retailer Frederik Meijer, has led the GOP field in fundraising for Michigan's 3rd District, which includes the Grand Rapids area. 

The district is now represented by Amash, a five-term congressman, Trump critic and former Republican who said last week he's seeking the Libertarian Party's nomination for president and forgoing his re-election campaign, which had been idle since mid-February. 

The race for the 3rd District — long held by Republicans — has drawn more than $4.3 million through March and is a target for Democrats who aim to scoop up the seat in the fall. 

Peter Meijer

Meijer's opponents include state Rep. Lynn Afendoulis, R-Grand Rapids Township, who last month got the endorsement of businessman Joel Langlois and the Rev. Andrew Jackson Willis — both former candidates in the GOP primary.

Afendoulis has also been listed as a "Woman to Watch" by GOP New York U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik's EPAC, which works to elect more Republican women to Congress. 

"The people of the 3rd District are going to decide who their next representative is, not the Washington, DC establishment," said Cooper Mohr, campaign manager for Afendoulis. 

"Lynn is proud of the endorsements she has received from over 25 Michigan state legislators and other local leaders. They know her conservative record and trust that she'll deliver for the people of West Michigan." 

The National Republican Congressional Committee generally does not get involved in primary races but has expressed confidence in retaking the seat. 

"This is a safe Republican seat. We will keep working closely with every campaign and be ready to hit the ground running after the primary is over," NRCC spokeswoman Carly Atchison said. 

But Democrats see great opportunity in Michigan's 3rd, especially if Amash and his broad name identification are out of the picture. They argue that the seat would be more competitive as a two-way contest, noting that Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer won 50% of the vote there in 2018.

“Republicans in this district will be up against their party’s record of prioritizing the needs of special interests and stripping health care from hardworking Americans — even during a global pandemic," said Courtney Rice, spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Hillary Scholten, the presumptive Democratic nominee, told the National Journal last week that nothing in her messaging would change as a result of Amash's decision not to seek reelection.

Scholten, an immigration attorney, last month picked up an endorsement from the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund. She also has the backing of three former Michigan Democratic Party chairmen and Emily's List, which supports the election of pro-choice Democratic women.

Scholten noted the GOP primary candidates are running in close step with President Donald Trump, and she believes she could benefit from the independent streak in the district that Amash long enjoyed.

“I won’t be afraid to chart my own independent course when it’s called for,” she told the Journal. “We’re offering something new here. I’m not a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat.”

A bulletin from the Cook Political Report last week said it would not change its "leans Republican" rating for the 3rd District in light of Amash's decision to pursue the White House, arguing the race remains competitive but the district's profile give the GOP an edge.

"Democrats had hoped the dynamic of a three-way race would divide Republicans used to voting for Amash and open a path for Scholten to win with a plurality of the vote. But that scenario became less likely when Amash came out for impeachment, angering GOP voters," wrote David Wasserman, Cook's House editor.

"Now that Amash is out of the race, the best Scholten and Democrats can hope for is a primary that leaves Republicans bitterly divided."

Michigan's filing deadline for the Aug. 4 primary is July 16 for independent and third- party candidates, and Wasserman noted that gives Amash two months to change his mind and run for a sixth term after all.

But he suggested Amash would face an uphill fight for reelection, doubting there's a much of a market for a "fiercely pro-life, pro-impeachment independent" in West Michigan this fall. 

mburke@detroitnews.com