Straw poll: Trump influence among Michigan Republicans might be waning

Beth LeBlanc Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Mackinac Island —  The influence of President Donald Trump among Michigan Republicans appears to have waned, according to a straw poll of attendees at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference on Mackinac Island. 

The unscientific survey of a little more than 740 Republicans, sponsored by The Detroit News, showed more people voted for other potential Republican candidates than they did for the former president when asked whom they would support. Trump still got the majority of votes with 47.5%, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis coming in second with about 25% of the vote. 

About 1,300 people were at the conference on Mackinac Island Friday and Saturday and had the option to vote through a secure link in the straw poll. 

About 60% of the attendees who participated in the survey said they would vote for a Republican even if the candidate didn't agree with Trump's assertion that the 2020 election was stolen.

About 44% of those polled said his endorsement would make no difference in whether they would support a candidate. Another 11% said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate endorsed by Trump.

The former president's pick for attorney general came in last among the three Republican candidates seeking the party nomination for that position. 

"This poll suggests that Donald Trump's grip on the party is not quite as tight as people think," Detroit News columnist Nolan Finley said. "I doubt anyone would have expected his support would have been under 50% with this crowd."

There are wings of the Republican Party that are more conservative, many likely to be stronger Trump backers who were not at the weekend conference of the party's delegates, donors and leaders. 

Prominent contenders for the Michigan GOP nomination for governor decided against attending this weekend’s conference, arguing that the party’s leadership was unfairly favoring former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, a candidate for governor.

Mattawan chiropractor Garrett Soldano held his own rally in Antrim County on Saturday. More than 1,000 people registered to attend, according to his campaign.

Trump's shadow was present in some programming at the conference, including praise of his administration's policies, a panel discussion on election integrity measures, and South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham saying he hoped the former president would run again.

But most speakers urged voters to unify ahead of the 2022 election and former U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos encouraged Republicans to focus on principles rather than personality.

Craig tops GOP gubernatorial candidates

Craig took top billing among Republican candidates for governor with 58% of the vote among those surveyed. 

The former chief was backed by a large contingent of college-age Republicans from around the state who were dressed in T-shirts supporting him. He gave a brief speech on the porch of the Grand Hotel thanking them for coming. He also addressed the conference and led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance on Friday night.

Craig was joined at the convention by fellow candidates including conservative commentator Tudor Dixon of Norton Shores, who finished in second with 19% of the vote; right-wing activist Ryan Kelley of Allendale, who earned 8.4% of the vote; Pastor Ralph Rebandt of Washington, who took 3% of the vote; and Michigan State Police Captain Michael Brown of Stevensville, who took 2%.

Soldano got 8.2% and businessman Kevin Rinke of Bloomfield Township got 1% of the vote.

Dixon, Rebandt and Kelley also made brief remarks on the stage at various points over the weekend. But Brown criticized the party for allowing Craig to speak ahead of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s keynote address.

“I just thought it was hilarious,” Brown said. “It’s the second time that someone has tried to prop him up in the race.”

Brown said the first was when GOP leaders, including Chairman Ron Weiser, appeared at an event in Jackson County with Craig in July.

Kelley didn’t criticize the spotlight given to Craig by the party.

“Life’s not fair, No. 1,” Kelley said. “I am not going to sit on the sidelines and whine about, ‘Well, they’re doing this or they’re doing that and that puts me at a disadvantage.'

“You know what my advantage is? It’s hard work, getting out there shaking hands, meeting people and doing the hard work.”

Leonard pushes ahead for AG

Former House Speaker Tom Leonard of DeWitt garnered the most votes for attorney general among those surveyed, with 48% favoring him over Trump-endorsed lawyer Matt DePerno of Kalamazoo and Rep. Ryan Berman of Commerce Township. 

DePerno, who was endorsed by Trump on Sept. 16, took 11% of the vote while Berman took 32%. Berman had a strong contingent of supporters on the island. 

As of Thursday, Kristina Karamo was the lone official candidate seeking the nomination for secretary of state and was listed on the straw poll alongside an option for "someone else." 

She took 69% of the vote. 

Three other individuals are also now considering campaigns, including Chesterfield Township Clerk Cindy Berry, state Rep. Beau LaFave of Iron Mountain and Livingston County Republican Party Chairwoman Meghan Reckling.

Other questions

Behind frontrunners Trump and DeSantis, Republicans on Mackinac Island expressed support for Kristi Noem, who earned votes from 8% of participants; Ted Cruz, who took 6%; and Nikki Haley, who received just under 6% of the vote.

Noem and Cruz were among the keynote speakers at the conference.

The poll also asked whether the government has a role in mitigating the pandemic, which 56% of respondents voted no on. 

The survey asked participants to indicate the issues most important to them, with a list of possible choices that included COVID-19, inflation, critical race theory, education, election integrity, crime, abortion or taxes and spending. 

Election integrity came in at 28%, with taxes and spending come in right behind at 25% followed by abortion at 11% and inflation at 10%.