Meijer leads big in Republican primary for West Michigan’s 3rd District

Military veteran Peter Meijer had a big lead Tuesday in early results of the Republican primary to replace U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, L-Cascade Township, in West Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District.

With 64% of precincts reporting, Meijer had 51% of the vote followed state Rep. Lynn Afendoulis of Grand Rapids Township at 25% and former Sand Lake Village Trustee Tom Norton at 18%.

Many pundits viewed Meijer, the 32-year-old grandson of the retail chain founder, as the favorite to win the heated GOP primary. But Afendoulis, 61, and Norton, 37, ran aggressive campaigns to try to upset Meijer in a five-candidate race.

Voters at multiple polling places in the West Michigan district that spans from Grand Rapids to Battle Creek said they went back and forth deciding between the candidates before casting their ballots on Tuesday.

Dorothy Adams, 62, of Portland, backed the upstart Meijer, who was running his first campaign for political office.

“Maybe, he’ll come out with some new ideas, some motivation to keep this country going,” Adams said standing outside Portland’s city building.

The 3rd District has been in the national spotlight — and in turmoil — for more than a year as Amash, who was re-elected as a Republican in 2018, publicly feuded with President Donald Trump and parted ways with the GOP.

He considered running for president as a Libertarian and running for re-election as a third-party candidate. He ultimately decided against both options, leaving the seat he’s represented for a decade open.

Amash won the 3rd by 11 percentage points in 2018. But Democrats argue the district is trending their way after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer two years ago won traditionally Republican Kent County — the largest county in the congressional district — and narrowly lost the district.

Attorney Hillary Scholten of Grand Rapids, who has already locked up a handful of major liberal interest group endorsements, will be the Democratic nominee in the general election. Her nomination was uncontested Tuesday.

Meijer has argued that his policy focus, forward-thinking position on the environment and push to end wars in Iraq and Afghanistan make him the best candidate to try to keep the seat in GOP hands.

But Afendoulis and Norton have questioned Meijer’s dedication to the GOP president, labeling him a “never Trumper,” an allegation he’s denied on the campaign trial.

Afendoulis was first elected to the Michigan House in 2018. She previously worked as director for corporate communications for Universal Forest Products.

Jeff Schultz, 63, cast his ballot for Afendoulis in Ionia County’s Campbell Township on Tuesday, saying the most important issues to him are the economy and protecting his retirement.

“I just thought she was more honest,” Schultz said.

Norton, who, like Meijer, is a military veteran, got into the race when Amash was expected to run for re-election as a Republican.

Eric Gibbs, 30, of Portland, said he was debating between Norton and Meijer and decided to vote for Norton at the last moment. Meijer seemed to be more on the “progressive side,” Gibbs said.

The two lesser-known Republicans in the race are Emily Rafi, 40, who is an attorney and a Battle Creek native, and Joe Farrington, who owns a bar in Lyons.

Meijer has had a financial advantage in the race, raising $1.5 million through July 15.

cmauger@detroitnews.com

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