Two of the favorites to win the GOP primary were former Detroit Police Chief James Craig and businessman Perry Johnson, but fraudulent petition signatures disqualified them, along with three other GOP candidates, from appearing on the August 2 primary ballot.
Now, in a race blown wide open, the five candidates who qualified for the ballot have been cast into the spotlight. So who are these Michigan Republican candidates vying for a chance to unseat Gretchen Whitmer (D), one of the most well-known governors in the country?
No candidate in the chaotic Michigan primary race has been through more controversy and drama in the last month than Ryan Kelley. On June 9, the Grand Rapids-area real estate broker was arrested by the FBI at his home in connection to his presence at the January 6 Capitol riot in Washington D.C. Days later, a federal judge ordered him to surrender his guns as he awaits trial for misdemeanor charges.
But the recent events surrounding Kelley have not distracted him from staying focused on the race, and the latest polling shows him as the frontrunner for the GOP nomination.
Kelley is running for governor not only because he wants Michigan to improve, but also because he believes the entire country is heading in a bad direction.
“I’m in this race because I love this country,” he told The Daily Wire. “I love our republic. I want to fight for our Constitution and for freedom for the next generation.”
During the COVID pandemic and Whitmer’s ensuing lockdowns, Kelley led protests and rallies against the governor’s measures — another reason he cited for jumping into the race. “You get Gretchen Whitmer back in there, you can expect more of the same and without concern of having to be reelected again at any point in the future,” he argued.
Kelley understands the path to defeating an incumbent governor is not easy. It’s been nearly 60 years since a Michigan governor lost a reelection bid after one term, but he remains hopeful that voters will look poorly on Whitmer’s actions over her first term.
“If there’s any time in our history as a state that an incumbent governor could be unseated, now is that time because of the events that have unfolded over the past few years,” Kelley said.
When the Whitmer administration took one of the strictest approaches of any state to respond to the COVID pandemic, Garrett Soldano organized a movement to oppose the lockdowns. Thousands of supporters joined the Kalamazoo chiropractor through Facebook and his group Stand Up Michigan to voice their opposition to Whitmer’s orders.
Soldano admitted that when he first announced his campaign for governor, he knew it was a long shot. But now, he believes the momentum from his movement will help propel him to the Republican nomination and give him the best chance to defeat Whitmer, who he says voters want held responsible for the state’s economic and infrastructure struggles.
“You’re not going to beat Governor Whitmer on policy,” he said. “You’re not going to get on stage with Governor Whitmer and say you’re going to fix the gosh darn roads better. It’s accountability time.”
Soldano places a strong emphasis on improving schools in the state, specifically by encouraging parents to get involved in their children’s education.
“We don’t have a teacher problem,” Soldano said. “We’re not going to allow a few bad apples to spoil the whole bunch.” Instead, he sees the solution to the problem in schools is getting more parents “involved” and “engaged” with their children’s education.
Soldano has also delved into the culture war, criticizing radical gender theory being aimed at children.
“This gender theory and sexual theory that’s being taught in schools, you have no right to do that,” he said. “If you want to teach my kid critical anything, you teach him critical thinking, critical math, critical reading. You can teach my kid how to critically think, not what to think.”
Businessman Kevin Rinke jumped into the GOP gubernatorial primary because he’s sick of what he sees as historic government failure. “I have never seen government dysfunction like I have seen under the Whitmer administration,” he told The Daily Wire.
Rinke’s main concern is with the state’s approach to the economy, both from the fallout of harsh COVID lockdowns and the state’s taxes levied against citizens and businesses. He said it was “either leave the state of Michigan like 16,000 other people did last year under [Whitmer’s] leadership, or stand up and fight.”
Rinke plans to fight, and he’s focused on making Michigan a state of economic freedom for its citizens.
“I want to give back to citizens $11.8 billion of their money because I know that they know how to spend it better than the people in Lansing,” he commented.
To give the people of Michigan more freedom over their money, Rinke wants to eliminate the state’s 4.25% flat income tax, promising to do so if elected by January 1, 2024.
The businessman noted his experience running companies and believes it gives him an edge over the other GOP candidates. “I’m the only candidate that has operated both private businesses and worked in public businesses,” he said, adding, “I respect the other candidates but they simply don’t have the experience, they simply don’t have the business scale.”
During his interview with The Daily Wire, Rinke didn’t hold back from taking swipes at Whitmer. “Gretchen Whitmer is well known for her failures,” he said. “She’s well known for auditioning to be Joe Biden’s vice president.”
“She’s the worst governor in America,” Rinke added.
As a mother, businesswoman, and political commentator, Tudor Dixon believes she has the skills and leadership qualities necessary to lead Michigan to economic strength and make families a priority.
In the early 2000s, Dixon worked in the Michigan steel industry, where she made a name for herself becoming chairwoman of the Steel Founders Society of America’s Future Leaders Committee. She later started a conservative news program that taught kids about government before she got in front of the camera herself as a political commentator.
In an interview with The Daily Wire, Dixon said that Whitmer’s policies have “done so much damage to the state,” and she believes pointing to the governor’s record over the past three and a half years will show Michigan voters that the state needs new direction.
“You look at what her record is, and we really strongly believe if we just hold her to her record, that’s enough to remind the people of Michigan that we can have a much better state,” Dixon said.
Dixon said her campaign has always prioritized being “very family focused,” and she has the endorsements to back it up. Recently, Dixon secured the endorsement of Michigan Right to Life, and the influential DeVos family, which includes former Trump Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, also gave the nod to her campaign.
“We were very blessed to have the [DeVos family] come in and say they believe in our message, they believe in our plan,” Dixon told The Daily Wire. “And they have a lot of influence in this state when it comes to the political movement, so a lot of people look at their endorsement and say ‘this person has a chance to go up against Gretchen Whitmer with the right plan for families.’”
Retired pastor Ralph Rebandt stepped down from three decades in the ministry to run for governor, pointing to Whitmer’s COVID lockdowns as a major factor in his decision. Whitmer “was simply looking at political science and not medical science,” he said.
Rebandt told The Daily Wire in an interview that he hasn’t seen any effective solutions coming out of the state capital over the past 30 years he’s been a pastor, and he wants to change that. He mentioned his experience of seeing God change individual lives as another reason that convinced him to jump into politics and offer solutions “for the mess that we’re in.”
For every candidate, name recognition is invaluable, especially in the wide open Michigan GOP race that saw its most well-known GOP candidate barred from appearing on the primary ballot. Rebandt believes his endorsement from the Southeastern Michigan Chiefs of Police, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, and pro-life activist Abby Johnson will help him stand out to more voters.
Rebandt did not shy away from commenting on culture war issues, especially the issue of radical gender theories being targeted toward children. “That’s what’s warping our children’s minds,” he said. “That’s what’s warping our culture, and it’s basically an attack on the family. On those issues, I’m very strong.”
On the other significant culture issue of abortion, Rebandt said he believes in a total ban and claims to be the strongest candidate in the field on the issue. “The Bible tells us that God creates the child in the womb and gives life,” he said.
With a chance to face off against Whitmer on the line, these five GOP candidates are bound for a tight race down the stretch as each seeks to convince voters that he or she is the best choice to turn the governor’s mansion back over to Republicans.