Jul 27, 2022 - Politics

Trump endorsement looms over foggy gubernatorial primary

Illustration of several versions of the elephant from the Republican Party logo stampeding and kicking up dust.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Less than a week away from the polls opening, the Republican gubernatorial primary is finally getting clearer.

  • In a messy race that lacks a clear front-runner, the deciding factor may come down to former President Trump endorsing a candidate.

The ballot includes candidates who all wrongly believe the 2020 election was stolen:

  • Tudor Dixon, conservative commentator from Norton Shores
  • Kevin Rinke, self-funded businessman from Bloomfield Township
  • Garrett Soldano, chiropractor from Kalamazoo County
  • Ryan Kelley, real estate broker from Allendale who was recently arrested over a Jan. 6 charge
  • Ralph Rebandt, pastor from Farmington Hills

What they're saying: "It's quite clear that the Michigan Republican Party has been dragged to the right," Rodericka Applewhaite, a Michigan Democratic Party spokesperson, tells Axios. "It's not just that these five candidates running for governor have adopted these stances on the 2020 election, they're running because of them."

  • "I'd be surprised if (Trump endorsed) anyone other than (Dixon)," GOP consultant Jason Roe tells Axios.

State of play: Dixon has the support of legislative and business leaders as well as Republican donors including the family of former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, which has drawn the ire of Rinke and Soldano.

  • She's being supported by a Super PAC, Michigan Families United, that raised $2.5 million for her from June 6 to July 19, per campaign finance records.

Between the lines: While Rinke and Dixon have been tagged as appealing to moderate voters, both have controversial pasts and no experience holding office.

Rinke was accused in 1992 lawsuits of making racist and sexual comments to his employees at a Metro Detroit car dealership, allegations he's denied.

  • In December 1991, Rinke allegedly told an employee "You mean you aren't like the rest of the (N-word)" when that employee said he didn't steal, the Detroit News reported.

Dixon made insensitive comments on Real America's Voice, a conservative commentary network where she worked after she served as a sales executive at her father's steel company.

What's next: This is our third of several election guides ahead of the Aug. 2 primary.

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