Rinke Shakes Up GOP Primary Race for Michigan Governor, But Still No Major Candidates Accept 2020 Election

It’s a norm-breaking trend rooted in election lies and conspiracy theories that are now widely embraced by the GOP base.

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Businessman Kevin Rinke’s entrance into the GOP primary for Michigan governor represents a major shake-up in the race. There are now more than a dozen candidates who want to be the one to take on Democratic incumbent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2022. But when it comes to campaign cash, none of them has been able to come anywhere close to matching the fundraising juggernaut that is Whitmer’s campaign operation.

Enter Kevin Rinke, the former owner of Rinke Automotive Group. He claims that he plans to pour $10 million of his own personal wealth into his campaign. That represents a huge cash advantage over other Republicans running, including presumptive front-runner former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, who has reported raising $1.4 million.


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“I think it adds another dynamic to this race,” says Republican political strategist Dennis Darnoi. “I think, given his financial backing, as well as some of his institutional support, I think makes him a legitimate candidate.”

But Darnoi cautions political onlookers to take Rinke’s $10 million promise with a healthy dose of skepticism based on similar past promises from other candidates.

“We’ve heard a lot of candidates say, I’m going to put X number of dollars into our campaign. And yet, when you look at it, at the end of the day, it never really amounts to that. I do think that Kevin Rinke has to spend a lot of money right now to define himself before his opponents define [him].”

It’s also worth noting that even with $10 million of his own money, Rinke is going to have an entire primary to go through, which will burn through some of that money before Whitmer has to spend a red cent. And it’s also unclear how skilled he will be as a candidate.

“No one on the Republican side has been able to answer this question for me. And my question to them was, if the election in 2020 was fraudulent, does that mean all the Republicans that successfully won were elected fraudulently? We all know that there isn’t a rational or logical answer to this.” –Dennis Darnoi, Republican political strategist

Darnoi says there are at least four GOP candidates “who have a legitimate claim to make why they would be the best suited to be Gov. Whitmer next year,” referring to Rinke, Craig, Kalamazoo chiropractor Garrett Soldano and Muskegon County conservative commentator Tudor Dixon.

Of all of the major, viable candidates in the Republican field, none have said that they accept the results of the 2020 election — a norm-breaking trend rooted in election lies and conspiracy theories that are now widely embraced by the GOP base. 

In September, MLive asked all 12 likely candidates for governor attending the Michigan Republican Leadership Conference on Mackinac Island, including Rinke, about whether they believe voter fraud reversed the results of the 2020 election. Rinke did not answer the question directly.


Related: Candidate Fundraising Reports Reveal Top Stories About 2022 Michigan Elections | MichMash


“Here’s what I do believe. For starters, I’m a private citizen, OK? And I don’t have access to all of the things that the people that are fighting that fight seem to have access to. But I’ll tell you that there were certainly election integrity problems that need to be addressed to preserve our republic and to preserve the confidence in elections that’s required to preserve our republic,” Rinke told MLive. You can read his full answer here.

Rinke’s campaign released a statement on the day he announced his candidacy saying, “Kevin knows the 2020 election was rife with administrative problems leading to a tainted election in the eyes of millions … Kevin believes we need to institute common-sense reforms that make it easy to vote and impossible to cheat. When elected governor, Kevin will audit the voting rolls because he knows we must verify that voters are alive, registered and identified before casting a ballot.”

“No one on the Republican side has been able to answer this question for me,” says Darnoi. “And my question to them was, if the election in 2020 was fraudulent, does that mean all the Republicans that successfully won were elected fraudulently? We all know that there isn’t a rational or logical answer to this. But I am always interested in knowing how only one race, which was included on every single ballot — I mean, it’s not as if there was just one ballot for president and then the rest for Congress and the state Legislature — how just one race could be tainted, while the other somehow were legitimate.”

“There is a narrative in the Republican Party that says that there was fraud and abuse in the 2020 elections. And in order for candidates to run on the Republican banner and receive Republican support, they do have to pay homage to the notion that there was something wrong,” says Darnoi.

More from MichMash:

Candidate Fundraising Reports Reveal Top Stories About 2022 Michigan Elections

Pandemic Has Hurt Government Transparency, Reporters and Watchdogs Say

Michigan Elections Officials Leaving Jobs in High Numbers Amid Threats, Harassment

Infrastructure Package Could Be Big Boost for Michigan, But Major Challenges Remain

School Voucher Supporters Hope to Get Around Whitmer’s Veto

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Authors

  • Cheyna has interned with Michigan Radio and freelanced for WKAR public radio in Lansing. She's also done some online freelancing and worked on documentary films.

  • Jake Neher is senior producer for Detroit Today and host of MichMash for 101.9 WDET. He previously reported on the Michigan Legislature for the Michigan Public Radio Network.