U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, a five-term congressman from West Michigan, has launched an exploratory committee to seek the Libertarian Party’s nomination for president.

The former Republican lawmaker announced the move late Tuesday on Twitter after pausing his congressional reelection campaign in February. 

“It’s very clear to me that people want someone who’s honest, who will offer practical approaches,” Amash said Tuesday night.

“What we keep getting in Washington is more of the red versus blue nonsense, where the two sides fight with each other, then they offer extreme approaches to satisfy their own base and they ignore most of the country. 

“People just want someone who’s going to serve with humility, who’s going to trust the people, who’s going to respect the system and respect the process — who will uphold the Constitution.”

Amash, who joined the Libertarian Party this month, also unveiled a new website, www.amashforamerica.com.

The Grand Rapids-area congressman left the Republican Party on July 4, after writing a Washington Post commentary criticizing hyper-partisanship and saying he is “disenchanted with party politics and frightened by what I see from it.” 

State law prohibits a federal candidate from filing to run for more than one office in the same election, so a White House bid would mean Amash would give up his House seat. 

“I’m committed to running for one seat, and I’ve decided to run for president. And that’s what I’ll be dedicating my time to,” he said.

Libertarian Party leaders last year predicted Amash could win their party’s nomination if he pursued it.

Some analysts contended the congressman could draw GOP votes from President Donald Trump in upper Midwest battleground states. Others think an Amash run would hurt former Vice President Joe Biden, the likely Democratic nominee.

Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson won 3.6% of the vote in Michigan in 2016, when Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton by 10,704 votes, or two-tenths of a percentage point. Johnson won more than 172,000 votes.

Analyst Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia Center for Politics said whatever effect Amash has on the 2020 presidential race would probably be greatest in Michigan.

“Amash surely has some hometown backing in his congressional district at least,” Sabato said.

But “I also don’t buy that a significant number of Republicans and conservative Independents who might have defected to Biden will now vote for Amash instead. These same squeamish GOP and GOP-leaning voters will end up voting for Trump, just like they did in 2016.”

Sabato predicted that Amash, the Green Party and other independent or third-party candidates would get well under the 6% of the vote that they received in 2016’s general election.

“Voters remember what happened in 2016. This time they won’t so easily be deflected from the basic decision —Trump or Biden?” Sabato said.

A 2019 poll of 600 likely Michigan voters released to The Detroit News and WDIV-TV showed that Amash’s candidacy could shrink Biden’s lead over Trump in Michigan.

John Sellek, CEO of the consulting firm Harbor Strategic Public Affairs, noted that polling Tuesday.

“If your theory of the race is that it’s a referendum on the president, which I believe it is, adding more anti-Trump candidates dilutes the anti-Trump vote, which hurts Democrats as polling has shown in Michigan,” Sellek said. “Outside of Michigan, his effect is likely to be minimal.”

In a 2019 interview, Amash, who never endorsed Trump in 2016, dismissed the suggestion that his candidacy could potentially to deny Trump another Michigan victory. 

“Who knows? Maybe he’d deny me Michigan. I don’t know,” Amash said of Trump.

“That kind of perception of third-party candidates and independent candidates is a problem,” he added. 

“One of the reasons it’s persisted as a problem is we haven’t had strong candidates typically running third-party campaigns or independent campaigns. I really think if you have a strong candidate, that person can far exceed expectations.” 

If Amash follows through on a presidential run, it will leave his 3rd District seat open.

Currently, one Democrat, Hillary Scholten, and five Republicans, including state Rep. Lynn Afendoulis, R-Grand Rapids Township, and businessman Peter Meijer, are running for the seat.

Afendoulis on Tuesday night accused Amash of abandoning West Michigan.

“This is just one more illustration of Justin’s focus — on his own wants and priorities, not his district’s,” Afendoulis said in a statement.

Scholten tweeted that Amash’s potential run for president “left a vacuum in this toss-up district that will either be filled by a pro-Trump extremist, or me — a proven leader.”

cmauger@detroitnews.com

Staff Writer Beth LeBlanc contributed.

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