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'I’m still going to miss it': Amash not campaigning for re-election to his seat in Congress

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

When U.S. Rep. Justin Amash ended his exploratory bid for the presidency, Libertarian activists held out hope he would run for re-election to his seat in the U.S. House, where he is the first and only Libertarian to serve in Congress.

It seems they are about to be disappointed. 

A top Amash aide reiterated this week that the West Michigan congressman idled his congressional campaign back in February. She also indicated Amash does not intend to seek the party's nomination at the Michigan Libertarian Party's convention in Gaylord this weekend.

"He hasn't been campaigning for any office and doesn't plan to seek the nomination for any office," Amash adviser Poppy Nelson said by email. 

Amash himself confirmed he isn't seeking re-election to his House seat in a tweet Thursday night.

The congressman's campaign raised only $24,200 for the quarter ending June 30 — another indication he's not running for federal office. He previously raised over $1.1 million toward re-election.

That's not to say Amash, 40, is done with politics. Those familiar with his thinking suggested he wouldn't have joined the Libertarian Party this spring if he didn't intend to work within the organization and run for office again in the future. 

U.S. Rep. Justin Amash

But Libertarians say they would be disappointed not to see Amash on the ballot after finally seeing one of their own among the ranks of the U.S. House of Representatives — a first for the party founded in 1971. 

"You can definitely quote me saying that we hope he runs again. I feel pretty confident that applies to every member of the Libertarian Party, no matter where they live," said Jim Turney, an Amash supporter in Altamonte Springs, Florida, who previously chaired the national party. 

"Because we really admire him a lot. He’s a real hero for us, and we certainly appreciate that he moved over and joined our party."

But after 10 years in Congress, the former Republican lawmaker and vocal Trump critic has parted ways with the conservative House Freedom Caucus he helped to found and has made clear his frustration with the hyper-partisanship in Washington. 

He has represented the Grand Rapids area for five terms and saw his national profile soar after he became the only GOP member of Congress to support Trump's impeachment.

He split from the Republican Party a year ago, became an independent, then signed up with the Libertarian Party in April before launching an exploratory bid to run for president on the Libertarian ticket.

Amash dropped that possibility after five weeks, citing extreme polarization in the country, resistance in the press to third-party candidates, and limited chances for "lesser-known" candidates to secure media opportunities during the pandemic.

"After much reflection, I’ve concluded that circumstances don’t lend themselves to my success as a candidate for president this year, and therefore I will not be a candidate," Amash tweeted in May. 

The filing deadline for state and federal candidates running with the Michigan Libertarian Party is Monday — the day after their nominating convention concludes.

Gregory Stempfle, state party chair, said the party needs someone like Amash representing his views in Congress but also understands that Amash just might be "tired of everything."

"Justin is the best member of Congress, and it would just be unfortunate if we didn't have that voice in there," Stempfle said.

"Plus, it would be an opportunity for the party to grow. We've never had an incumbent election campaign before on the federal level. It would have been historic for us."

Some observers say Amash would have faced an uphill fight to retain his seat, despite his advantages of incumbency and name recognition.

It's difficult for third- or minor-party candidates to break through and win election but especially so in times of hyperpolarization, where both the Republican and Democratic bases will be highly engaged and energized in November, said David Dulio, a political scientist at Oakland University.

"Having said that, Justin Amash would have as good of a chance as any third-party candidate given that he has somewhat of an established base of support for both votes and fundraising," Dulio said.

Nicholas Sarwark, former chairman of the Libertarian National Committee, said Amash could win the nomination at this weekend's convention if he wanted it, and clinch re-election in the fall with the help of the party's fundraising network.

"It’s really up to the candidate, whether they think it’s the right thing to for their goals and their life and their family," Sarwark said. 

"As our first Libertarian congressman — I would like to keep that seat," he added. "But I understand if he thinks there’s a better way for him to advance the Libertarian Party and improve the conditions of this country — that he has to do what he thinks is right."

Nathan Hewer, who represents Amash's congressional district on the state Libertarian Executive Committee, said there's a possibility Amash could be nominated at the state convention even if he doesn't show up in person. 

If that happens, Hewer would try to reach the congressman about whether he would accept the nomination, he said. "I have no indication what the answer would be," Hewer added. 

If Amash is not the nominee, delegates will nominate another Libertarian to run for his seat, Hewer said, though he's personally hoping Amash still runs. 

"The feeling is he’s been one of the most consistent advocates for liberty we’ve had in Congress, and I think whatever position he runs for next he will get our full endorsement and full support."

Some party activists in Michigan would like to see Amash run for governor in two years, Hewer added, noting that Amash raised the possibility during question-and-answer forums he held with Libertarian caucuses during his exploratory bid for president. 

"One concern he had was taking a job as a congressman and vacating the position halfway through to take a different position. That's a major concern he has," Hewer said. 

"I think he just wants to make sure he respects the office and does not take a job that he's not going to carry out to full term."

mburke@detroitnews.com