RNC chair, Michigan Republicans doubt Kid Rock run

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Mackinac Island — Kid Rock continues making noise about the U.S. Senate race but has not made any serious off-stage overtures about a run, Michigan GOP officials and activists said Friday at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference.

Republicans at the biennial confab consistently told The Detroit News they do not believe Kid Rock — real name Robert Ritchie — will launch a campaign to run in the GOP primary or challenge incumbent U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing.

“I have not spoken with Kid Rock, and he has not reached out to me,” said Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel, who ran the Michigan GOP before President Donald Trump tapped her for the national post. “I just don’t think he’s running.”

McDaniel attended a recent Kid Rock concert at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit and said she is a fan, noting he has “given back to Michigan” and praising him for his 2013 benefit concert with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

“He’d be interesting,” she said. “I think he’d make the Dems sweat a little bit, but I just don’t think he’s going to run. I still think the field of candidates that we’re putting forward makes it a very competitive race.”

Former Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bob Young of Laingsburg and Farmington Hills businessman John James are the only declared Republicans vying to take on Stabenow. U.S. Rep. Fred Upton of St. Joseph and Grosse Pointe businessman Sandy Pensler are both considering runs.

Former Ingham County GOP co-chair Norm Shinkle was among a small band of Mackinac conference attendees wearing “Kid Rock for US Senate” T-shirts Friday but agreed that the potential for a Sen. Kid Rock is highly unlikely.

“Can you see Kid Rock sitting through a three-hour Senate committee hearing?” Shinkle said.

Other Republicans gathered at the historic Grand Hotel offered similarly skeptical assessments of a potential Kid Rock campaign.

“He’s got a pretty busy career as it is,” said Michigan GOP grassroots vice chair Mark Gurley. “I think it’s really about getting his voice heard … and he’s trying to release a new album, so this helps.

“Knowing what I know about politics on the inside, he’d hate it. He’d just hate it. He’d want to be bashing heads.”

Kid Rock has worked his Senate flirtation into his stage show. At recent concerts in Grand Rapids and Detroit, he delivered rhyming speeches behind a “United States of ’Merica” podium that featured “2018 Kid Rock.”

In the process, he’s “touched” some of the same unlikely voters who propelled President Donald Trump to a win in Michigan last year, said Matt Maddock, a co-founder of the Michigan Conservative Coalition who is now running for state Senate.

“What Kid Rock’s doing is he’s taking politics to the mainstream of that voting bloc, which is often disengaged,” said Maddock, who does not believe Kid Rock will run but appreciates the role he’s playing.

Young, the highest-profile Republican currently running for Senate, said he thanks “Kid Rock every day for raising the profile” of the race.

But the 66-year-old candidate said he’d be “shocked” if Kid Rock gave up his lucrative career and celebrity lifestyle to run for office.

“Those who know both Kid Rock and his father say that this was a joke that kind of got away from him,” said Young, referencing Bill Ritchie, a Metro Detroit businessman and previous owner of a car dealership.

“I think he’s already experiencing what it’s like to be a public conservative,” he added.

Kid Rock sparked protests last week as he opened the LCA in Detroit as African-American activists and others decried his past use of the Confederate flag on stage.

James, who made his “exploratory” campaign official on Thursday, called Kid Rock “a patriot” but believes in himself as the best Republican for the job.

“There are those of us who sing about freedom, and there are those of us who fight for it,” said James, an Army veteran who served in the Iraq War.

Kid Rock did not register for the Mackinac GOP conference, where declared and prospective candidates for a number of races are mingling with donors and activists ahead of the 2018 election.

“Anybody that is serious about getting into a race in 2018, I believe, would be here at the island,” said state House Speaker Tom Leonard, a DeWitt Republican who is exploring a run for Michigan attorney general.

Plymouth Township Supervisor Kurt Heise, a potential candidate for the U.S. House in the 11th Congressional District, called Kid Rock’s Senate tease a “very skillful marketing gimmick” from a talented entertainer.

“He certainly knows and understands the nature of politics, and he’s passionate about it, but I just don’t think he’s serious about being a statewide candidate,” Heise said.