Meet the GOP extremists hoping to be Michigan's next governor

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At least five GOP candidates for Michigan governor have said they believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump.

The race to unseat Michigan's Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has already attracted at least a dozen Republican candidates and millions of dollars in campaign spending.

Whitmer became a target of conservative ire, both statewide and nationally, for her lockdown orders, and is one of the most vulnerable incumbent Democrats, according to the Cook Political Report, which considers the Michigan governor's race a toss-up. While her favorability rating was underwater for most of the pandemic, polling from EPIC-MRA released Sunday pegs her at 50% favorability despite a negative job performance approval rating.

In that same poll, Whitmer has opened up a 5-point lead — 45% to 41% — over Craig after being tied with him for months.

Many of the Republicans aiming to unseat Whitmer have adopted the kind of extremist rhetoric used by former President Donald Trump, both embracing Trump's baseless claims of widespread election fraud in Michigan and calling for the arrest of political and ideological opponents.

At least five of the GOP candidates have said they believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump — including one candidate who was involved in both the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol building and the 2020 storming of the Michigan state Capitol by armed militia members.

While a majority of candidates have not engaged in this kind of "lock her up" rhetoric, a majority of Michigan Republican gubernatorial hopefuls have cast varying degrees of doubt on the legitimacy of the 2020 election.

James Craig

Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, who served from 2013 to 2021, is the frontrunner in the race and has already raised $1.4 million. In a July campaign ad announcing his candidacy, Craig touted his police force's crackdown in 2020 on racial justice protesters in a city where 78% of residents are Black.

The ad begins, "We know Seattle burned, Portland burned. Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia — burned. Even some cities here in Michigan. But not Detroit."

Detroit police officers have been accused by activists of engaging in disproportionately aggressive responses — using tear gas and rubber bullets against nonviolent crowds, arresting and detaining peaceful protestors, and, in one case, driving an SUV through a crowd of protestors — to what were some of the most peaceful protests in the country that summer.

In 2020, a federal judge temporarily banned the DPD from using shields, gas, rubber bullets, chokeholds, sound cannons, and batons against protesters because of excessive force allegations.

Craig's police department did not use the same harsh crowd-control methods on Trump supporters who tried to illegally enter a Detroit absentee ballot counting center during the aftermath of the 2020 election. Craig said police officers treated the Trump supporters less harshly than Black Lives Matter protesters "because they were peaceful."

Garrett Soldano

Garrett Soldano, a Kalamazoo chiropractor who opposed Whitmer's stay-at-home order in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, has raised $1 million.

Soldano, who played a decisive role in organizing the resistance to Whitmer's lockdown orders and eventually launched the Unlock Michigan campaign that defeated the lockdown orders, said on Twitter that Dr. Anthony Fauci should serve a life sentence.

Soldano and Craig have both called for an audit of the Michigan vote total while not explicitly endorsing the idea that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump.

Ryan D. Kelley

Ryan Kelley took part in the right-wing insurrection that took place on Jan. 6, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. While Kelley has claimed he never entered the building, footage emerged on Twitter in July 2021 showing him advancing on the Capitol building.

"Come on, let's go! This is it!" Kelley can be heard shouting in the video. "This is war, baby!"

Kelley had previously downplayed his participation in the insurrection.

"As far as going through any barricades or doing anything like that, I never took part in any forceful anything," he told MLive in March. "Once things started getting crazy, I left."

Kelley co-founded the American Patriot Council, a Michigan militia whose members violated COVID-19 regulations to enter the state capitol in 2020 while armed with rifles.

Last September, Kelley proposed that President Joe Biden should be tried for treason against the United States — a crime for which death is a possible penalty — while speaking at a candidates' forum hosted by the Oceana County Republican Party. And in November, Kelley called for Whitmer's arrest, accusing her of violating the Constitution of the United States.

Along with Kelley, four other candidates — Articia Bomer, Bob Scott, Evan Space, and Ralph Rebandt — have taken up Trump's false claim that Biden only won Michigan because of widespread voter fraud.

Tudor Dixon

Tudor Dixon, a conservative talk show host from Norton Shores, Michigan, has claimed without evidence that "Democrats took advantage of COVID" in a "premeditated" way to win the 2020 election, and accused Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson of conducting the election "in a way that was ripe for fraud."

Despite her numerous claims about the legitimacy of Michigan's 2020 presidential election results — where Biden successfully flipped a state Trump won in 2016 — Dixon has said she honors "the certified results of the election."

The television network Real America's Voice, which hosts Dixon's show "America's Voice Live," also employs Trump's former senior adviser Steve Bannon. Dixon has raised $200,000 in her bid to unseat Whitmer.

Kevin Rinke

Kevin Rinke, a millionaire businessman, has not outright disputed the results of the 2020 election. However, he has alluded to voter fraud conspiracy theories by campaigning on elections that "guarantee integrity."

Who will Trump endorse?

Trump has not yet endorsed a candidate in the Michigan governor's race. Last year, Dixon and Craig both traveled to Florida to meet with him.

A Trump endorsement is often a good predictor of victory — at least in Republican primaries. Nearly every Republican candidate Trump endorsed in 2018 and 2020 won their primary contest.

Trump has endorsed two other candidates running for statewide office in Michigan: Kristina Karamo, a part-time adjunct professor at Wayne County Community College who is running for secretary of state, and Matthew DePerno, a Kalamazoo attorney who is running for attorney general.

Both Karamo and DePerno have said they support Trump's claims of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.