Most outside money on sidelines of Amash-Ellis race

WASHINGTON (Detroit Free Press) — If a lack of significant outside money coming into the race is any indication, U.S. Rep. Justin Amash of west Michigan may be coasting to the win he expects in next week's primary.

Key endorsements have been piling up for Amash's challenger, Grand Rapids businessman Brian Ellis, from powerful pro-Republican forces alienated by the two-term incumbent's voting record.

But outside of a $190,000 TV buy last week by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the groups endorsing Ellis — including theU.S. Chamber of Commerce and Right to Life of Michigan — have been holding onto their money, suggesting Amash may have what appears to be an unbeatable lead.

Ellis told the Free Press Tuesday that he remains optimistic about his chances, saying he's confident of a victory and that "the only poll that counts is Tuesday night's results."

"My original game plan never contemplated outside money," he said. "The district is perfectly capable of making up its own mind and doesn't need outsiders telling it what to do."

When the Free Press last polled the race in June, Amash, a Cascade Township Republican, was leading 55%-35%, and throughout the campaign Amash has predicted an easy win over Ellis.

"It's been a very stable race for months and we're confident that on Aug. 5 it won't be close," said Amash's campaign manager, Connie Lemmink.

So far, Ellis has spent $1.2 million — and loaned himself $1 million — but it's unclear how much effect it has had on Amash, who has spent less than $900,000 on the race so far.

Amash has alienated the Republican establishment by voting against or refusing to vote for some measures supported by party leadership. His explanations for those votes typically are the bills don't go far enough or fail, in his opinion, to pass constitutional muster.

Amash and his allies, including the Club for Growth, have tagged Ellis as a tool of an establishment that, to their way of thinking, is not adequately committed to conservative ideas.

The difference between them can sometimes be difficult to understand: For instance, Amash has long been staunchly anti-abortion, but his refusal to support legislation prohibiting gender selection — which he said criminalized thought — caused some to question his commitment to the cause.

Meanwhile, the Free Press' editorial board noted Ellis' support of a balanced budget amendment as a reason to endorse Amash — even though Amash proposed his own such amendment and only voted against one because he said he didn't think it was properly written.

Whoever wins the Republican primary will be considered a virtual shoo-in for the November general election in the Michigan 3rd, one of the most conservative districts in the state. If Amash wins, however, don't expect either him or the establishment forces to change their tune about the other.

"Inevitably, there's going to be some resentment," said Saul Anuzis, a former state Republican Party chairman, who said neither side is going to embrace the other in terms of political philosophy.

It's always possible Ellis' allies — or Amash's — could put more money into the race. With five days left, U.S. Chamber Political Director Rob Engstrom declined to discuss strategy, as did the state Chamber's Rich Studley.

Studley said both the state Chamber and Ellis were aware of the difficulties of defeating an incumbent and "went into this race with eyes open."

"We're very comfortable with the decision we made," said Studley.

Paul Welday, a Republican consultant in Farmington Hills, said he doesn't think Ellis or his supporters are throwing in the towel, but acknowledged that if Amash wins against such forces "that says something about Amash." If nothing else, it could be seen by the incumbent as validation for his anti-establishment votes.

"If he pulls this off, you've got to tip your hat to the guy," Welday said.


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