Justin Amash

Key Election Forecaster Switches Justin Amash's House Seat to 'Lean Republican' in 2020

"It's doubtful there's a sufficient market for a pro-life/pro-impeachment independent in the district to allow him a path to a sixth term," concludes the Cook Political Report.


The Cook Political Report, which accurately called Michigan's 3rd congressional district race each of the five times Justin Amash won it as a Republican, is now predicting that he won't win re-election as an independent.

In a post-impeachment vote update last week, the election forecaster switched the race from "Toss-Up" to "Lean Republican," with the Cook's David Wasserman arguing that "Amash's anti-Trump posture seems more likely to split votes on the left."

"Unlike pro-Trump party switcher Rep. Jeff Van Drew (NJ–02), Amash is now his own island," Wasserman wrote. "It's doubtful there's a sufficient market for a pro-life/pro-impeachment independent in the district to allow him a path to a sixth term. He had $273,000 in the bank at the end of September—far less than the GOP nominee is likely to be able to spend—and won't be able to lean on financial support from either party."

Amash's seat is being vigorously contested in the August 4, 2020, primaries of both major parties. Democrats so far include former aide to Barack Obama (in both the White House and Senate) Nick Colvin and social worker/immigration attorney Hillary Scholten, while Republicans have a half-dozen candidates led (thus far in the fundraising sweepstakes) by grocery store magnate Peter Meijer, DeltaPlex Arena owner Joel Langlois, and state Rep. Lynn Afendoulis. Generally, the November 2020 race so far has been seen as a toss-up.

The libertarian incumbent has long made the case that outside observers routinely underestimate his support and misread Michigan's 3rd congressional district, which includes the growing and increasingly Democratic city of Grand Rapids, prosperous suburbs, and some red-meat rural areas. The Dutch Reformed Church, which has a significant presence there, places an emphasis on personal modesty and decency reminiscent of the Donald Trump–averse Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Amash's margin of victory in his district exceeded Trump's in 2016 by 11 percentage points, and also Mitt Romney's in 2012 by two percentage points. The Cook status change does acknowledge that the "situation in Grand Rapids is unique," not least because it is currently unknown whether House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) will take up some of her backbenchers' request that Amash be appointed one of three House managers in the (presumably) forthcoming Senate impeachment trial.

And though Wasserman is correct to the point of tautology that Amash will not receive support from his (non-existent) political party, the congressman does have longstanding ties with national libertarian and libertarian-adjacent organizations, some of which helped him fend off GOP primary challenges in the past. He also will get at least some new money this cycle from the kind of national-security conservatives who actively backed his opponents as recently as five years ago.

The last sitting member of Congress to switch to independent once in office and then survive re-election was Virginia's Virgil Goode in 2000; he subsequently switched over to the GOP in 2002 and has had, shall we say, an ideologically colorful career. As a category, the reelected major-party-defector is basically empty since World War II.

Hindering Amash's case still further is the fact that Michigan is one of just a handful of states that have the straight-ticket ballot option, whereby voters can check a single box with the name of their political party and—ZOOP!—every one of that party's listed candidates gets a vote. "Straight-ticket voting makes it prohibitive to run outside of the major parties," Amash told me in August 2018.

The late date of the Michigan primaries means that Amash will have to decide 11 weeks in advance of them whether he will instead seek the Libertarian Party presidential nomination, which gets decided May 21–25. He has been downplaying such speculation of late, telling Rolling Stone in the fall that "I'll continue to weigh where I think I can make the most impact, but I also think it's important to be successful when you run for office….If I were to run for president, that's not something I would do unless I felt very confident I could win it. And so if you were to see me get into the race it means that I'm confident I can win the race."

The math on a third-party presidential challenge in these polarized times is brutal, yet it's hard to imagine a scenario in which Amash concludes he has better odds of taking the White House than defending his seat. As the 4th quarter for fundraising reaches its final hours, six of the congressman's last eight posts on his famously chatty Twitter feed are appeals to donate to his congressional campaign.