Lower leaves congressional race as national focus on West Michigan grows

Grand Rapids | Wikimedia Commons

The primary for Michigan’s contentious 3rd Congressional District may be more than nine months away, but the dynamics of the closely watched race continue to shift. 

State Rep. Jim Lower (R-Greenville), an early entrant into the GOP primary in May, just after incumbent U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (I-Cascade Twp.) announced his support for the impeachment of President Donald Trump, has dropped out of the race. 

Lower’s decision to exit comes as the Grand Rapids-based congressional district, long held by Republicans, is under a national spotlight, as Kent County — and the broader West Michigan region — is viewed as a bellwether for the 2020 election. And a number of candidates from both parties have lined up in the congressional race, even as Amash has said he intends to run for reelection as an independent.

Amash primary challengers emerge after Trump impeachment tweets

Running on a pro-Trump platform, Lower had attracted some national attention. But in a statement on Tuesday evening, Lower cited unspecified family reasons and a difficulty to compete in fundraising as reasons to exit the race. 

“I have sincerely appreciated the donations our campaign has received up to this point. However, I do not come from a wealthy family nor do most of my supporters,” Lower said. 

“These facts would have made remaining financially competitive over the long haul of the campaign very difficult,” Lower continued. “This was not an easy decision for our family to make. I would have been honored to serve as our Congressman. However, when you couple the family concerns with the fundraising challenges the right decision became clear.”

Additionally, Lower said he would forego a third term in the state House and was endorsing Patrick Outman, son of state Sen. Rick Outman (R-Six Lakes), to take his seat. Patrick Outman announced his candidacy last month, according to the Greenville Daily News.

Amash faces Dem, GOP candidates who outraised him last quarter

As of Sept. 30, Lower had $62,411 on hand for his campaign, far less than several other challengers on both Democratic and Republican sides, and less than Amash, who continues to seek reelection to his seat as an independent. 

Other Republicans seeking the nomination are Lower’s fellow state Rep. Lynn Afendoulis (R-Grand Rapids Twp.); U.S. Army veteran and heir to the Meijer retail fortune Peter Meijer; businessman Joel Langlois; and former Sand Lake Village Trustee Tom Norton. 

Democrats aiming for the seat are attorney Nick Colvin, a former White House aide to President Barack Obama, as well as Grand Rapids resident and immigration attorney Hillary Scholten, who worked as an attorney in Obama’s Justice Department. 

National attention

Amash was the first Republican member of Congress to publicly call for the impeachment of Trump, due to revelations in the report on Russian 2016 election interference produced by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. That action led to primary challengers like Lower. 

Amash quits committee, GOP conference, as analysts say seat is a ‘toss-up’

In July, Amash announced he was quitting the Republican Party to serve as an independent, leaving political analysts to view the distant November 2020 election as a “toss-up.” 

The unique dynamics at play in the 3rd District have brought widespread national attention that could only be amplified as the West Michigan region is put under the burning hot spotlight of the 2020 presidential election.

On Sunday, NBC News announced that Kent County, a major population center of the district, was one of two counties in the country where it would be embedding political reporters ahead of the 2020 election.

“As Kent County goes, so goes Michigan, and maybe, so goes the election,” said Chuck Todd, anchor of NBC News’ “Meet the Press” Sunday morning program and the network’s political director. 

Your interactive guide to every presidential campaign stop in Michigan in 2019

The area has been on the radar of presidential candidates, as the Advance has previously reported, and it appears that Trump may also be paying attention to the congressional campaign. 

The Langlois campaign has announced that Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, would be the keynote speaker at a pro-Trump rally next month. 

“Kent County and West Michigan will be critical to the presidential election. We’re going to show the nation that voters here stand behind President Trump and are ready to elect him once again in 2020,” Langlois said in a statement. 

GOP candidate holding pro-Trump rally with Corey Lewandowski in Grand Rapids

But Meijer, another of the GOP candidates, suggested that all the national attention on the area could be to the detriment of local issues such as the economy and the Great Lakes. 

“These are not dynamics West Michigan is used to and hopefully we’ll get to a place … that’s good for the sanity of the local electorate and a point of a bit more stability,” Meijer told the Advance on Wednesday morning. 

One issue Meijer said he has yet to hear from any local voter: Trump’s impeachment. 

Meijer: People are ‘frustrated’ with Amash, want ‘someone new’

Similarly, Scholten, one of the Democratic candidates, put impeachment far down her list of topics she’s campaigning about. She noted that she supports the ongoing impeachment inquiry, but it’s not something she “supported from day one.”

In an interview this week, Scholten said she was inspired by the 2018 campaign of now-U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly). Scholten this week announced the endorsements of Brandon Dillon, Lon Johnson and Mark Brewer, the last three chairs of the Michigan Democratic Party.

Scholten said she’s campaigning on issues like immigration and the economy, noting that Trump’s trade policies have hurt much of the rural parts of the district.

Asked about her position on health care, Scholten said she doesn’t “see a path” in the immediate future for a policy like Medicare for All and stressed that she sees a place for private health insurance.

Immigration attorney Scholten joins Dem field challenging Amash 

Ultimately, Scholten said she believes the 3rd District, long represented by independent-minded, male Republicans, will be open to a new style of leadership. 

“I’m really keeping an open mind to how to lead and serve this district in a new way, that truly meets the needs of all people,” Scholten said. I think that there are a lot of people who have really felt left out and neglected from the political process when we’ve been … represented by men of privilege for a long time in this district,” she continued. “And I think I’m ready to bring a new style of leadership and representation.”