If Kid Rock is serious about seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, he’ll be doing something he and most Americans rarely do: Participating in a primary election.
Voter participation records reviewed by The Detroit News show Rock did not vote in Michigan’s 2016 GOP presidential primary election won by President Donald Trump and has cast ballots in two of 10 other statewide or presidential primaries since 2002.
The self-described Republican originally supported Detroit native Ben Carson ahead of the 2016 Michigan primary, but later praised Trump and performed last year for delegates at the GOP’s national convention in Cleveland.
The Clarkston resident, whose real name is Robert Ritchie, hasn’t missed a general election since 2006, when he sat out a cycle that saw Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm win re-election over Republican businessman Dick DeVos. He also missed the 2002 gubernatorial contest when Granholm defeated Republican Dick Posthumus.
Despite touring and other celebrity commitments, Rock has voted in every presidential general election since at least 2000, twice in person and three times by absentee ballots.
The 46-year-old Romeo native did not vote in the 2012 statewide primary that decided the last GOP nominee to take on incumbent Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing. Former U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Holland won the primary over Detroit area private school founder Clark Durant but lost to Stabenow by more than 20 percentage points in the fall.
Asked about Kid Rock’s voting record last week, a spokesman said he would “be in touch soon” but did not respond to a subsequent inquiry.
If he launches a campaign for Senate, which he has been teasing, Rock would not be the only candidate in the race who has missed elections.
Republican businesswoman Lena Epstein of Bloomfield Hills did not vote in non-presidential primaries in 2006, 2008 and 2010, according to Michigan Secretary of State records requested by The News.
Epstein, who co-chaired Trump’s Michigan campaign, has voted in every statewide primary since 2012 and every general election since at least 2004 after earning a degree at Harvard University in Massachusetts.
Asked about the holes in her Michigan voting record, the 36-year-old Epstein called herself “an outsider from the business world who was focused on creating jobs and running a business in the automotive industry in some very challenging years for our state rather than politics.”
“Eventually, I got sick and tired of being sick and tired watching elected officials make decisions that would threaten the fabric of our state and country,” she said in a statement. “I decided to do something about it in recent years by co-chairing President Trump’s campaign so that we could implement America First policies to rebuild the middle class.”
Businessman and military veteran John James of Farmington Hills, who launched an “exploratory committee” this week as he lays groundwork for the 2018 GOP primary, could have voted absentee but missed some elections while serving in Iraq. The 36-year-old political novice has helped lead a family business in Detroit since 2012.
James voted in each statewide general election since 2004, but he missed all primaries from then until he voted in the 2016 presidential primary. He also missed a 2006 general election that saw Stabenow defeat GOP challenger and Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard.
“John attended West Point until 2004,” said spokeswoman Tori Sachs in response. “John went to Ranger School, flight school and served two years in Iraq. He came home to Michigan and has been growing his family and his business.”
Former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Bob Young has a near-spotless voting history, according to records many local clerks began compiling around 2000. The 66-year-old Republican missed just one statewide election since then, a 2010 primary that saw Gov. Rick Snyder win a five-way race for the GOP nomination.
Stabenow, 67, also has an active voting participation record. Since 2000, she skipped just one election — a 2012 presidential primary that did not count for Democrats, who had already decided to disregard the results. They backed President Barack Obama’s re-election bid through a party caucus later in the year.
Turnout in primary elections — even the presidential variety — is typically much lower than in general elections.
A record 2.5 million voters cast ballots in Michigan’s 2016 presidential primary, but it was still only 34 percent of registered voters. More than 4.87 million voters cast ballots in the 2016 general election, a participation rate of 65 percent.
Rock stoked anticipation for a potential Senate run on July 12 when he launched a new website selling logoed merchandise. But many skeptics continue to argue it’s a marketing ploy designed to promote his music career, including two new songs and music videos he released last week.
“It still smells like a publicity stunt — a very good one, but I just don’t see it happening,” said Susan Demas, editor and owner of Inside Michigan Politics, a newsletter. “I don’t think there’s any incentive for him to give up this story line for a while.”
Rock has not yet filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission, which is legally required within 15 days of raising or spending $5,000 for a campaign. He may have already hit the threshold just by printing the logoed merchandise on his website, let alone selling it.
Last Monday, he tweeted out a photo of himself wearing a “Kid Rock ’18” shirt on a stage with his middle fingers extended in a crude gesture.
An hour later, Rock posted what appeared to be a professional campaign statement saying he thinks that if you “work your butt off and pay taxes, you should be able to easily understand and navigate the laws, tax codes, health care and anything else the government puts in place that affects us all.”
Rock also missed Michigan’s 2008 presidential primary that saw former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney beat U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona in a nine-candidate GOP field. He did vote in the 2012 presidential primary, which Romney narrowly won over former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania on the Republican side.
Is clock ticking on Kid Rock?
When Kid Rock tweeted on July 12 about his U.S. Senate merchandise website, it generated speculation about when he might declare his candidacy.
Federal election rules require senatorial candidates to register with the Federal Elections Commission when they or their representatives “receive contributions or make expenditures in excess of $5,000.” Reaching or surpassing the $5,000 mark requires those individuals within 15 days to file a statement of candidacy, creating a campaign committee to raise and spend money on their behalf, according to the FEC.
It is uncertain whether the creation of the Kid Rock Senate website and purported sale of campaign merchandise has resulted in enough spending to meet the $5,000 threshold.