April 20, 2024
Michigan’s Republican gubernatorial primary has been rocked in recent weeks by half the field, including two front-runners, failing to qualify for the ballot and the arrest this week of one candidate in connection to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

Michigan’s Republican gubernatorial primary has been rocked in recent weeks by half the field, including two front-runners, failing to qualify for the ballot and the arrest this week of one candidate in connection to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

The messy Republican primary could hurt the party’s chances of seizing the governor’s mansion in a November contest in which incumbent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) is seen as vulnerable. The election is currently projected to favor Republicans in part due to President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings and rising inflation.

Some state Republicans believe the charges against Ryan Kelley, who has long acknowledged having been on Capitol grounds Jan. 6 but denies breaching the building itself, could ingratiate him with some Republican primary voters.

News coverage of the misdemeanor charges could boost his low name recognition or even lead former President Donald Trump, whom Kelley ardently supports, to endorse him.

Kelley called the charges against him “theater” in an interview with local talk radio host Justin Barclay on Friday.

“They weaponized the FBI against me on this wild goose chase here,” Kelley said, adding that “they’re not after me — they’re after all of us.”

The Republican field of 10 candidates was cut in half earlier this month when the state Supreme Court left in place the state Bureau of Elections’s findings that five candidates submitted fraudulent signatures in their campaign filings, including former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, who was seen as the front-runner. Craig said this week that he plans to launch a write-in campaign instead.

“The only pathway left was to do a write-in,” Craig told the Washington Examiner in a telephone interview Friday. “It’s a very different type of campaign. And so it really motivated me most with so many people that reached out to me, encouraged me to continue the fight.”

Craig said checking the signatures was a labor-intensive prospect for a small campaign staff.

Asked about the charges against Kelley, Craig said he wasn’t familiar enough with the details of the allegations and declined to “speculate,” citing his law enforcement background.

“The law should be blind,” Craig said. “I don’t care which ideology — the Left, Right, or in the middle — it makes no difference if you engage in criminalities.”

Asked if being present at the Jan. 6 riot should disqualify a candidate for governor, Craig said it would depend on whether criminal conduct occurred, arguing that not everyone who marched toward the Capitol that day participated in criminal behavior. He added that he knew of people who left the Jan. 6 march once the conduct of others there “escalated into something criminal.”

“I respect the right of peaceful protests,” he said. “And again, total disregard for ideology — I don’t care about that, makes no difference. It does make a difference in crossing that line and engaging in criminal behavior.”

Craig said in Detroit in 2020, the city saw a number of peaceful protests following the death of George Floyd, but the city also saw “individuals doing the lawlessness, the attacks on police officers.”

“There were peaceful protests, expressions of folks’ First Amendment rights, which we support,” he said, adding that there were also “individuals who were trying to incite violence, who were aggressively trying to do an attack our officers, and that’s the line that shouldn’t be crossed.”

A Michigan Republican strategist told the Washington Examiner that he didn’t see a viable path forward for Craig’s write-in campaign after the petition snarls.

“If he couldn’t get the signatures he needed when his name was on a petition,” the strategist said, “I don’t know how he thinks he’s going to get his name written on a ballot.”

But blocking Craig and businessman Perry Johnson, also previously seen as another top contender, from the ballot might also benefit Kelley, who will be on the ballot in the primary, and receive wide news coverage shortly before the absentee ballots will go out.

The strategist said Kelley might get a boost from primary voters as a result.

“This does make him a martyr to a lot of folks,” he said.

But general election voters in Michigan, a swing state that helped send Trump to the White House in 2016 but did not vote to give him a second term in office in 2020, might not embrace Kelley’s MAGA brand and election denialism. A recent Target Insyght and Michigan Information and Research Service poll conducted prior to Kelley’s arrest found that Whitmer led Kelley 57% to 23% in a hypothetical matchup.


The Michigan Democratic Party has been vocal about its optimism regarding Whitmer’s chances. In a Thursday statement regarding Kelley’s arrest and Craig’s write-in campaign, party spokeswoman Rodericka Applewhaite asked in a statement, “Has anyone tried unplugging the MIGOP and plugging it back in again?”

Asked if Kelley stood a chance against Whitmer in the fall should he win the primary, the Republican strategist said, “I’m not going to say it’s impossible because she’s that bad and the wave is that strong, but, you know, I don’t know how you appeal to true swing voters that are paying attention.”

“I don’t think voters distinguish really between people that, you know, raided the Capitol building and those that stood on the lawn and watched,” the strategist added.

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