September 18th, 2010
09:07 AM ET
3 years ago

CNN 100: Physics' first law of motion in Michigan

 The CNN 100 takes a look at the top 100 House races, from now until Election Day.
The CNN 100 takes a look at the top 100 House races, from now until Election Day.

Editor's Note: In the final 100 days before Election Day, CNN has been profiling one race at random each day from among the nation's top 100 House races, which we've dubbed "The CNN 100." Read the full list here. Today's featured district is:

Michigan 3rd-(Open Seat)-Rep. Vern Ehlers (R) is retiring
Primary: August 24, 2010
Location: West-Central Michigan, Grand Rapids
Days Until Election Day: 45

(CNN) – In another life, GOP State Rep. Justin Amash and Democrat Patrick Miles may have met in a boardroom on opposing sides of the table. Instead, both former corporate lawyers are meeting – and competing – against one another in the race to replace the first research physicist elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, GOP Rep.Vern Ehlers. Ehlers has a history of achieving easy victories in Michigan's 3rd district. After eight terms he will retire and attempt to pass the torch to Amash, whom he endorsed in the August 3rd GOP primary. Ehlers can certainly attest to the first law of motion in physics: an object in motion stays in motion unless it is acted upon by an external force. With the national trend turning red, a win for Amash would not appear to require heavy lifting, especially since President Bush won the district with a 19-point margin of victory in 2004. But in 2008, the 3rd district almost succumbed to the blue wave that elected President Obama; John McCain carried the region with only 2,000 votes to spare.

That slim margin gives Democrats some hope that they can pull an upset in this long-held GOP seat. In his first run for public office, Miles handily won the Democratic nomination and gained the endorsement of Sen. Carl Levin. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Miles was a classmate of President Obama and editor-in-chief of the Harvard Law Record, the school's student-run newspaper. Miles has proposed reining in federal spending by implementing a 5-percent congressional pay cut every year the federal budget is not balanced. In what may have been one of the few moments of bipartisan accord on the campaign trail so far this contentious year, Amash agreed with the proposal, and Miles immediately tweeted his thanks.

Amash was elected to the Michigan legislature in 2008. He criticized the incumbent Ehlers for being too moderate for the district and announced his candidacy for Congress in February the day before Ehlers had announced his retirement. Amash has the endorsement of Right to Life Michigan; his web site touts a campaign philosophy centered on a "consistent commitment to limited government, free markets, and individual liberty."

Amash is also no stranger to social media. He uses Twitter to chronicle his daily experiences from the Michigan House floor and details each of his legislative votes on Facebook. The Michigan GOP credits Amash's Facebook use with helping to attract new voters to the party.

The Republican has had an advantage in fundraising, but both candidates have shown the ability to compete financially. Amash raised $304,000 in contributions for his campaign, compared to $203,000 for Miles, who nonetheless has stayed competitive financially after loaning his campaign $115,000 in personal funds. Amash loaned his campaign $75,000. As of mid-July, Miles had a considerable cash advantage with $227,000 in the bank, while Amash posted $112,000. The Democrat had largely kept his powder dry, spending only $92,000, compared to $268,000 for Amash.

Both candidates, as well as the late President Gerald Ford, are native sons to Grand Rapids, which comprises most of Michigan's 3rd district. Miles spent his college summers as a spot-welder in one of the office furniture factories that help stabilize the city's economy. These factories along with those owned by Bissell and other major brands helped Grand Rapids cope with recent plant closings as a result of GM's financial woes. Through the years, the city, often described as the GOP seat of Michigan, has remained solidly Republican. Democrats face an uphill battle to take this seat, especially in what's expected to be a difficult election year for members of the president's party. Nonetheless, Ehler's retirement and Republicans' relatively weak showing here in the 2008 presidential campaign give Democrats a faint glimmer of hope for an upset.


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