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Republican Amash's lead in Michigan House race narrows: poll

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Democrat challenging libertarian Republican Congressman Justin Amash in Michigan is gaining ground after airing commercials criticizing Amash's controversial voting record, a poll commissioned by Democrats shows.

The polling data released by Steve Pestka's campaign shows that he is now trailing Amash by 4 percentage points - 44 percent to 48 percent - compared with an 8-point gap in August. The poll of 400 likely voters conducted earlier this week carries a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points.

"Michigan's Third District is challenging, but it is a real and improving pickup opportunity for Democrat Steve Pestka," pollsters Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research said in a memo. "The Grand Rapids-based district continues to lean Republican and in some measures has shifted right since August, but Pestka's strong profile and message is resonating with voters."

Pestka is trying to unseat 32-year-old Amash, a freshman Tea Party favorite who has taken a strong libertarian stance and is among a handful of House of Representatives Republicans who vote most often against their own party's leaders.

The improved poll data comes after Pestka, a former state legislator and judge who runs a family commercial property business, began running ads touting his public and private experience and criticizing Amash's voting record. One ad pointed out that Amash was the only House member to vote against a House bill that eased financial burdens on military personnel serving overseas.

An Amash campaign spokesman was not immediately available for comment. His campaign has not begun running broadcast advertising in the western Michigan district.

In an opinion piece published on Thursday by a Michigan media website, MLive.com, Amash defended his record and said he is fighting for a balanced budget amendment, for lower military spending and against government favoritism for certain industries, including large oil companies.

(Reporting By David Lawder)

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