Trump-backed John Gibbs beats Peter Meijer in GOP primary for west Michigan district

Arpan Lobo Todd Spangler
Detroit Free Press

Former President Donald Trump can claim another win in getting back at those who crossed him.

John Gibbs, a little-known candidate who had entered the race for the newly drawn 3rd Congressional District in west Michigan but who was backed by the former president, defeated incumbent U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Grand Rapids, in the Republican primary Tuesday, with Meijer conceding just before 2 a.m. on Wednesday.

Trump targeted Meijer — who is in his first term and is a member of the wealthy family that owns and operates the eponymous grocery store chain bearing his last name — for voting to impeach the former president for his role in instigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol — becoming one of only 10 Republicans to do so.

With 88% of the vote counted as of 7 a.m. Wednesday, Gibbs led 52%-48%, a stunning win that showed Trump's influence remains strong with grassroots GOP voters in west Michigan.

>>> See Michigan's primary election results here

​Gibbs declared victory on social media early Wednesday morning, tweeting that he spoke over the phone with Trump before Meijer conceded. In his concession, Meijer said: "This was a hard-fought primary campaign and I want to thank everyone in west Michigan for their support. ... I also want to congratulate my opponent, John Gibbs, on his victory tonight."

"I'm proud to have remained true to my principles, even when doing so came at a significant political cost," he added in the statement.

Pam Wilson, who voted at a church in a Grand Rapids suburb, was among the voters Tuesday who said she didn't agree with Meijer's actions in office, impeachment chief among them.

Gibbs landed an endorsement from Trump last November, but was largely unable to turn that into major fundraising success — Meijer's campaign consistently reported higher fundraising hauls in campaign finance reports.

Republican House of Representative candidate John Gibbs speaks during a Save America rally at the Michigan Stars Sports Center in Washington Township on April 2, 2022.

The Gibbs campaign was given a boost from an unlikely backer — the campaign arm for House Democrats, which spent $425,000 on ads labeling Gibbs as "too conservative" leading up to Election Day. The move was seen as an effort to damage Meijer with likely Republican primary voters and the incumbent criticized the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC)  for involving itself in a Republican race.

"That is something that we are not willing to accept when it comes to that degree of influence, that degree of meddling," Meijer said, shortly after casting his ballot in Grand Rapids on Tuesday morning. 

FILE - Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Mich., speaks during a roundtable discussion at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Aug. 30, 2021.

Gibbs brushed off the DCCC's involvement, telling reporters Tuesday morning in Byron Township that his campaign's groundwork in connecting to voters would be the difference in the race. 

"I don't know what they're doing or not doing, it really doesn't matter to me," Gibbs said. "I think we're ahead anyway."

But the DCCC's spending may make some sense. Going into the fall election, Gibbs will face Democrat Hillary Scholten, a Grand Rapids lawyer who was unopposed in that party's primary and who is a former Obama-era Justice Department attorney who ran against Meijer in 2020, losing by 6 percentage points. In the interim, the 3rd Congressional District has since been redrawn and is now considered more Democratic leaning, which could benefit Scholten, especially against the lesser-known — and more Trump-aligned — Republican nominee. 

The district is based around Grand Rapids, and also contains the cities of Muskegon, Grand Haven and other parts of Muskegon and Ottawa counties.

On Wednesday morning, the DCCC put out a news release already sharpening its attack lines against Gibbs, calling him "a far-right extremist who was carried over the finish line in his primary only by the most fringe elements of his party."  

Contact Arpan Lobo: alobo@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @arpanlobo.

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