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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at Kettering University in Flint, Mich on Sept. 15, 2021.Jake May / The Flint Journal via AP file

GOP candidates for governor in Mich. start far behind Whitmer

Recent survey shows the Democratic Michigan governor musters well over a majority in all hypothetical general election matchups.


The 2022 election cycle has already been tumultuous, but perhaps no gubernatorial race has been as chaotic as Michigan’s. And with less than a month now until the August 2nd Republican primary, the state GOP may be bracing for a challenging general election.

Going into this year, the Republicans had high hopes for beating Democratic incumbent Gretchen Whitmer. Then, five Republican candidates, including two expected frontrunners, failed to qualify for the primary because they fell short of the number of valid signatures needed.

Another GOP candidate, real estate agent Ryan Kelly, was arrested on misdemeanor charges for participating in the Jan 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol. He’s still in the race.

Currently, polls show that the five Republicans that have qualified for the primary ballot are fairly close, with no candidate topping 20% in the race. A June poll from Mitchell Research in the state showed former radio talk host Tudor Dixon at 15%, businessman and former auto dealer owner Kevin Rinke at 15%, Kelley at 13%, chiropractor Garrett Soldano at 8% and pastor Ralph Rebandt at 3%.

But another Michigan poll from the Lansing-based firm Target Insyght showed all the five were trailing Whitmer by double digits in head-to-head matchups, as of late May.

Those are some big leads and the race seems bound to tighten once the GOP has selected its nominee and the public tunes in more closely. Still, Whitmer’s vote share is at 57% or above in each race.

The challenge on the Republican side may be finding a way to win over moderate voters and eat into some of Whitmer’s advantages. A GOP gubernatorial debate last week showed the challenges they may face in that regard.

In that exchange, four of the five candidates said they believed, incorrectly, that former President Donald Trump won Michigan in 2020. The one outlier was Rinke, who has faced criticism from his fellow candidates for not supporting their false narrative of the 2020 vote. To respond to that criticism, he released an ad featuring a “zombie voter” and asking why “dead people always vote Democrat.”

In reality, President Joe Biden carried the state by about 3 percentage points and more than 154,000 votes. That vote margin was more than 10 times higher than Trump’s 10,700 vote win in the state in 2016.