GOP gubernatorial candidate says he won't attend 'political elite' Republican conference

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Republican gubernatorial candidate Garrett Soldano said he will not attend the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference because he feels the party has already signaled its support for another candidate. 

The Mattawan chiropractor, who gained a following during the pandemic as an anti-lockdown activist and a leader of the Unlock Michigan campaign, prides himself on not being a "politician." 

But the three-day conference on Mackinac Island, Soldano said, is tailored toward the "political elite," with more than $500-per-night hotel rooms and straw polls that he expects will be "rigged."

"The party bosses and the establishment, they think they get to decide who the Republican nominee is but they’re wrong," Soldano said. "That’s up to we, the people.”

Garrett Soldano is seeking the Republican nomination for governor.

The party "has not and will not take a position in primary races," nor has it finalized plans for a gubernatorial nominee straw poll, though it's in conversations with a media outlet regarding one, said Sarah Anderson, external affairs director for the Michigan Republican Party. 

"Candidates have always found it an excellent opportunity to network with activists and that is why most of the Republican gubernatorial candidates are already registered or working with us to register to come to the conference," Anderson said of the conference.

Soldano questioned the impartiality of the party's leadership, pointing toward the attendance of GOP Chairman Ron Weiser and several other Republican leaders at a July 6 event featuring former Detroit Police James Craig as proof of the party's favoritism.

"That made a statement to the people that they were backing him; that's what people don't want anymore," Soldano said. And former President Donald Trump's success in 2016 is proof of the establishment's waning influence.

"We do not want the establishment and these party bosses to have any say in who we want to have represent the Republican Party," he said. 

The Michigan Democratic Party also criticized Weiser's attendance at the Craig event July 6, calling it a "total thumb-on-the-scale event" to test out the campaign message of "their cherry-picked candidate."

Weiser said after the event that primary voters would decide who would run against Whitmer in 2022, but said Craig would be a "formidable candidate." 

The former police chief's potential candidacy "better reflects the diversity of our party than many people who talk about it say," Weiser said. 

Additional Republican gubernatorial candidates include Metro Detroit businessman Kevin Rinke, Detroiter Articia Bomer and Pastor Ralph Rebandt of Washington. 

Candidates also include conservative commentator Tudor Dixon of Norton Shores, right-wing activist Ryan Kelley of Allendale and Austin Chenge of Grand Rapids.

Soldano said that, regardless of what occurs next August, he'll support the party's eventual nominee. 

"Bottom line, my mission is to beat Gov. Whitmer," Soldano said. "If that's me or someone else, we're going to let go, let God on that one but the mission remains the same: We need to beat Whitmer."