DETROIT (CN) — Republican candidates may refine their messaging in the run-up to Michigan’s primary election on Aug. 2 as they straddle opinions on abortion and lingering Covid-19 restrictions, all while former President Donald Trump’s influence lingers in the background.
“Trump has done amazing things for our country,” Republican candidate Ryan Kelley said of the 45th president during a gubernatorial debate on July 7, one day before entering a not-guilty plea to charges in connection with last year’s Jan. 6 riot.
The FBI raided Kelley’s home and he was arrested on June 9.
David A. Dulio, an Oakland University political scientist, thinks the arrest was beneficial.
“He has a base of support that is tied to relitigating 2020,” he said in a telephone interview. “I think his arrest and indictment helped him, … certainly with name recognition.”
Before she announced her candidacy, conservative commentator Tudor Dixon had a sales career in the Michigan steel industry throughout the early 2000s and later founded Lumen News, which she claimed provided pro-America, pro-Constitution morning news programs to grade school students.
Dixon, a native of Norton Shores in western Michigan, objected to incumbent Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Covid-era lockdowns and seethed when her grandmother died in a locked-down nursing home. She blames the governor’s “cruel no-visitation policies” that only allowed her to wave goodbye through an outside window.
“We saw what happened when our state was shut down by a tyrant governor,” Dixon said at the debate.
According to polling released on July 11 from MIRS News and Mitchell Research, Dixon’s support is surging. With 26% of Republican voters supporting her, she has an 11-point lead over the three other candidates, who are in a statistical tie. One-third of voters remain undecided. Another poll showed her on top albeit with a slimming lead. She has recently secured endorsements from Right to Life of Michigan and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.
At a debate on July 20, Dixon addressed the attention she received and said her opponents “have been running silly attack ads against me because they thought it was a popularity contest.”
Dulio noted she is walking a tightrope.
“She is leaning a little more towards the establishment wing of the party … while still trying to keep a toe in the Trump wing,” the professor said.
Dulio highlighted the strategic importance of courting Trump’s base in a post-Trump world.
“Trump brought people to the Republican Party that no one else could,” he said. “If the Republicans can keep the coalition he started together, while not alienating suburban voters, they have a good chance,” he said.
Kevin Rinke, a businessman from Bloomfield Township, is also running for governor. Rinke ascended through his family automotive dealership business then moved on to the medical field, where he eventually landed at Centria Healthcare and dedicated his focus to autism.
He touted his business acumen at the July 7 debate, but made a point to stress that he would fix the state’s education system since that was a “critical aspect” of business.
Dulio opined Rinke was positioning himself as an outsider executive-type, but with less drama than former President Trump.
“He’s … following in the lines of other folks from outside the political sphere,” he said.
Garrett Soldano positions himself as an underdog against the political machine. His Facebook group, “Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantine,” was eventually removed by the social media giant. At a recent debate, he accused Dixon of being bought and paid for by the so-called establishment.