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Will controversial Dave Agema run for Congress (in a district in which he doesn’t even live)?

Republicans may be trying to break up with Dave Agema, but Dave Agema is sending plenty of signals that he’s not about to break up with Republicans.

Agema 101

We all remember how a bunch of state and national Republican leaders have called on Dave Agema to please, please, please quit as Michigan’s Republican National Committeeman because of the unwelcome attention he has drawn over seriously negative comments and social media posts about gays, Muslims, guns, etc.

In 2012, Agema parlayed his capacity for causing ulcers among the GOP establishment into a loyal Tea Party following that roiled Republican conventions and allowed him to beat an incumbent for the position of Republican National Committeeman.

Staying put

Despite the many calls for his resignation, Agema says he is not going away and now, in fact, intends to run again, in what could be a dramatic test of Tea Party clout, for the RNC next year.

“I’m running until I tell you I’m not, so right now I’m running,” he tells It’s Just Politics.

An opponent surfaces

But, an adversary for the RNC position has now emerged in Doctor Rob Steele. Steele threw his name out at the Michigan Republicans’ recent leadership conference on Mackinac Island. He has tried to position himself as a righter-than-most candidate for a few offices now (including a run against former-Congressman John Dingell in 2010).

Steele says it’s not just what Dave Agema says, it’s how he says it:  “There’s a lot of ways you can say these things, and we need to have a little more honey drawing people in rather than keeping them away, especially here in Michigan, where it tends to be a little bit of a blue state. We need all the votes we can get. We can’t leave any votes behind.”

National headlines

If you doubt what Steele says about Agema’s effect on voters, consider this: He’s become pretty well-known. Typically, does anyone even know who the Republican National Committee members are?

(If you do, the chances are you’re a political junkie, and you should seek help immediately.)

The general public is largely unaware of these internal party players, but that’s not the case with Agema.

Recall the headlines that went national as GOP leaders made their ill-fated effort to expel Agema from the Republican National Committee. (We should note that while the National Chair of the Republican Party, Reince Priebus, has called on Agema to resign, Michigan’s GOP Chair, Ronna Romney McDaniel, has stayed away from the controversy except to say that her conversations with Agema are private.)

Upping the ante

Now, Agema may be about to double down, saying that he not only intends to run again for committeeman, he might also run for Congress;  in a district that he doesn’t even live in -- Michigan’s Fightin’ First.  

The 1st Congressional district covers the northern Lower Peninsula and the entire Upper Peninsula. Agema, however, is from Grandville outside Grand Rapids and doesn’t have so much as a Post Office box up north.  The district, on paper, at least, is one of the most competitive in the country and, with the retirement of U.S. Representative Dan Benishek(R-Crystal Falls), it should be a wide-open race.

Three, maybe four or even five current or former Republican state legislators are looking at the seat. And on the Democratic side, a primary is settling that pits former party chair Lon Johnson against Jerry Cannon, the Democratic nominee for the seat in 2014.

There is nothing that requires a congressional candidate (or a member, for that matter) to live in the district which they represent. But it’s generally a good idea. Northern Michigan is typically not receptive country for carpetbaggers. They want one of their own, especially the Yoopers.

But Agema seems to think he might have this almost Donald Trump-like capacity to defy the usual rules of politics. And, like Trump, win or lose, Agema has the capacity to make a spectacle of the primary, which would be a welcome development. For Democrats.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Radio’s Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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