As Trump withholds endorsement, Michigan GOP governor candidates repeat 2020 election lies

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Nine candidates are vying for the nomination that will pit them against incumbent Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in November.

When Republican candidate for governor of Michigan Garrett Soldano said during a primary election debate on May 12, "President Trump is still my president," he was not alone in the sentiment. 

Several of the candidates have made denying the results of the 2020 presidential election a key part of their platform, possibly in the hope of garnering former President Donald Trump's sought-after endorsement — which has so far not been forthcoming.

Nine candidates are vying for the nomination that will pit them against incumbent Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in November. Whitmer is uncontested. This is the largest primary field in the state's history. 

The candidate who until recently was called the front-runner, former Detroit Chief of Police James Craig, is embroiled in a legal struggle to get his name on the ballot following allegations by another candidate, Tudor Dixon, that thousands of the signatures on the required petitions were forged. Craig did not attend the debate on May 12.

Of the other candidates, at least four have repeatedly voiced strong reservations about the integrity of the election, and several others, while they may have been more muted in their criticism, have nonetheless made "election integrity" a key issue of their campaigns, as have candidates in GOP races in other states.

Soldano began his run for governor after becoming a prominent figure in protests against Whitmer's COVID-19 safety policies in 2020. He has also pushed a conspiracy theory about the alleged plot to kidnap the governor that came to light in 2020, claiming that not only was the government behind it, but it was part of a larger scheme to influence the 2020 election. 

According to the website Bridge Michigan, Soldano had at first not believed that the 2020 election was rigged. However, during the debate on May 12, he called the 2020 election a "disaster" and said he would order a full forensic audit if elected.

Ryan D. Kelley too started out on the road to his candidacy by protesting Whitmer's COVID-19 safety policies. He was present at the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters, at which he was filmed waving on rioters as they stormed the building. He later told the Michigan website MLive, "I think that event was definitely an energizing event, right? It will live on in history, absolutely."

According to the Detroit News, Kelley said in April that if he were elected, he'd cancel contracts with the companies that provide voting and tabulation equipment in Michigan and promote hand-counting of ballots.

"I do believe that the 2020 election was a disrespect to our Constitutional Republic," Kelley told MLive in September of last year. "I do believe it was fraudulent. But I don't believe, there's nothing that's going to happen that's going to put Trump back into office, he would have to run again in 2024."

Kelley has also made comments suggesting that voters take illegal action to disable voting machines. During a campaign event in January 2021, Kelley said, "If you see something happening you don't like happening with the machines, if you see something going on, unplug it from the wall. Take control of the narrative."

Another candidate, Ralph Rebandt, has similar feelings about the 2020 election. The front page of his campaign website says in large letters, "Day One: Investigate the Election Fraud of 2020":

I am the only Michigan Governor Candidate who was at the TCF Center and who witnessed election fraud and the breaking of Michigan Election Law. I will investigate who ordered and allowed the Detroit Police to keep out Republican and Independent Election Poll Watchers and Election Poll Challengers from the counting room, and who ordered and allowed cardboard to be put up on the windows to inhibit a fair and transparent election. If a full forensic audit has not been conducted prior to my inauguration, I will call for one immediately. ... Those who are guilty of the breaking of Michigan Election Law will be prosecuted. We absolutely must have free, fair, and transparent elections in order to survive as a country.  

Tudor Dixon, a conservative commentator, has possibly come closest to receiving a Trump endorsement. The former president mentioned her specifically at a rally in Michigan on April 2 at which he was stumping for candidates for attorney general and secretary of state: "Now we have a candidate for governor who's very popular, who's a fantastic, brilliant candidate, Tudor Dixon!"  

Although she has been reticent on the subject of the 2020 election relative to some of her Republican opponents, according to Michigan Bridge, she said during the debate that she thought Trump had prevailed. However, she has not made litigating 2020 a campaign priority; she did acknowledge the desirability of a nod from Trump, saying, "Polling shows (an endorsement from Trump) would absolutely be a wonderful thing, when it comes to the Republican vote, and I would be honored to have that."

A Republican-sponsored investigation into the presidential election in Michigan in 2020 found no evidence of fraud

President Joe Biden won the 2020 election in Michigan by a margin of 154,000 votes.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.