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Michigan Tea Party Congressman Amash Defeats Challenger

U.S. Representative Justin Amash of Michigan, supported by the small-government Tea Party, defeated a Republican primary challenger backed by the nation’s largest business lobby.

Amash, 34, beat Brian Ellis, 54, who was aided by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is working to send Republicans to Congress who support an agenda that includes reauthorizing the U.S. Export-Import Bank and avoiding government shutdowns.

With 56 percent of the precincts reporting in today’s vote, Amash had 56 percent of the vote compared with 45 percent for Ellis, according to the Associated Press tally.

The Party That Isn't on the Ballot

The race is part of a contentious primary season in which Republican incumbents drew challenges from candidates backed by groups such as the Tea Party Patriots, FreedomWorks and the Club for Growth that are seeking to shrink the federal government.

On the other side of Michigan, in the Detroit suburbs, a Chamber-backed candidate, attorney David Trott, defeated incumbent Republican U.S. Representative Kerry Bentivolio, a reindeer farmer aligned with the Tea Party, 66 percent to 34 percent, with 94 percent of the precincts reporting, according to the AP. The district supported 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney by 5 percentage points over President Barack Obama.

Signature Scandal

Republicans never united behind Bentivolio. He won the 2012 election after Republican Representative Thad McCotter resigned after a petition-signature scandal. Republican leaders opposed to Bentivolio had backed a former state lawmaker in a failed write-in campaign.

Bentivolio became the third sitting member of Congress to be unseated this year. The others were former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and Representative Ralph Hall of Texas, both Republicans.

Amash, elected in 2010 in the western Michigan district, which includes Grand Rapids, is a member of the House of Representatives’ Tea Party caucus. He is one of 12 Republican House members who last year didn’t support John Boehner of Ohio to serve as speaker.

Amash alienated the House leadership by pushing an unsuccessful measure last year that would have limited the National Security Agency’s use of funds to collect data on telephone calls made by U.S. citizens. He found common ground with 111 Democrats, who supported his effort.

Republican Credentials

Ellis, the founder of Brooktree Capital Management Inc., a Grand Rapids-based investment firm, criticized Amash’s Republican credentials. He ran commercials that said the incumbent voted with Obama, a Democrat, 51 percent of the time.

“When Amash votes with Obama, he’s not voting with us,” the ad said. “Justin Amash, he’s not who you think he is.”

The strategy didn’t work. Neither did the $200,000 that the Michigan Chamber of Commerce poured into the race to defeat Amash. Amash spent $840,000 on his winning campaign, while Ellis spent $1.2 million, according to data through July 16 from the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based group that tracks campaign finance.

The Chamber’s opposition to Amash and other Tea Party candidates may deepen a rift between the small-government movement and business associations.

“A lot of folks, even folks who are not as hard core as Justin is, don’t like the way he’s been treated,” said U.S. Representative Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina in an interview.

“If their goal was to try to move the House in a direction that was more amenable to business, how do you think Justin Amash will feel about them the next Congress?”

To contact the reporter on this story: Annie Linskey in Washington at alinskey@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at jcummings21@bloomberg.net Justin Blum

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