Nearly 1,000 Michigan candidates file for 2018 election

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Nearly 1,000 Michiganians are running for state or federal office this fall, including nine candidates for governor who filed signatures to qualify for the August primary ballot — the most in at least four election cycles.

Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones files petitions to run for the congressional seat left vacant by Rep. John Conyers at the elections office inside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center in Detroit, April 24, 2018. (David Guralnick / The Detroit News),

The gubernatorial ballot swell is partly attributable to 2016 presidential candidate Gary Johnson, who collected enough votes in his third-place finish in Michigan to earn the Libertarian Party a spot on the primary ballot for 2018.

Republican President Donald Trump is also a motivating factor for some of the at least 991 candidates who filed to run for state or federal office or judgeships by Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline, the highest total since 1,001 primary candidates in 2002. The figures, unofficial counts from the Michigan Bureau of Elections as of Tuesday evening, do not include county or local races.

In the midst of an already-contentious 2018 election season that could function as a referendum on his early presidency, Trump is expected in Macomb County’s Washington Township on Saturday to rally supporters and sow the seeds for his own 2020 re-election campaign.

“The presidential election in 2016 really opened my eyes and got me out of my silo,” said Eponine Garrod, a first-time candidate in the 6th Congressional District in southwest Michigan who was among the last to file petitions Tuesday afternoon in Lansing.

Westland Mayor Bill Wild files the petitions to run for the congressional seat left vacant by Rep. John Conyers at the elections office inside the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center in Detroit, April 24, 2018. (David Guralnick / The Detroit News),

The 24-year-old Kalamazoo chemist is one of five Democrats hoping to compete in the primary race for the chance to take on U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, in the November general election.

“I think it screams that there’s been an awakening across the nation and especially Michigan — when we went red in the presidential election — to get up and be a champion for change and not just a passive bystander,” she said of the large candidate field.

Not all candidates who filed for the primary ballot will qualify. Signature validity can be challenged through May 1, and the Board of State Canvassers has until June 8 to certify petitions.

The top of the ticket will likely feature four Republican candidates for governor, three Democrats and two Libertarians. Voters must decide which primary to participate in for the Aug. 7 election and can only choose candidates from a single party.

Retired Xerox executive Bill Cobbs will not appear on the Democratic primary ballot after deciding to skip the filing deadline. But the Farmington Hills resident plans to continue his campaign as a write-in candidate, which he acknowledged will be a “daunting task.”

Cobbs said his campaign gathered more than 17,000 signatures but recently discovered some “irregularities” on petitions circulated by an outside firm. Gubernatorial candidates need at least 15,000 valid signatures to make the ballot. Cobbs declined to name the company he hired for circulation, citing the potential for legal action.

“I’ve never given up on anything in my life,” Cobbs told The Detroit News, explaining why he’ll continue as a write-in candidate. “I think this particular election is a very pivotal one for our state. The voters deserve to have the opportunity to evaluate every candidate on their merits and to make a fundamental decision about the future.”

Cobbs’ shortfall makes it a three-way race for the Democratic nomination. Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer of East Lansing, the early frontrunner, will compete with Ann Arbor entrepreneur Shri Thanedar and former Detroit health director Abdul El-Sayed of Shelby Township.

Four Republican candidates for governor made the filing deadline: Attorney General Bill Schuette of Midland, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley of Portland, state Sen. Patrick Colbeck of Canton Township and obstetrician Jim Hines of Saginaw.

Voters could see especially long August primary ballots in the 13th Congressional District, where 10 candidates filed to replace resigned Detroit Democratic U.S. Rep. John Conyers next term, and the 11th District, where 13 candidates filed to replace retiring Republican Rep. David Trott of Birmingham.

The Democratic field in the 13th includes son John Conyers III and great grandnephew Ian Conyers, along with Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones, state Sen. Coleman Young II, Westland Mayor Bill Wild, former state Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Shanelle Jackson, activist Michael Gilmore and former Conyers staffer Kimberly Hill Knott.

David Dudenhoefer, who chairs the 13th Congressional District Republican Party, will run unopposed in the GOP primary, according to an unofficial listing from the Wayne County clerk’s office. The district includes Detroit and some surrounding suburbs.

Six Republicans filed in the 11th District, which includes southern Oakland and northwestern Wayne counties: Former Congressman Kerry Bentivolio of Milford, state Sen. Mike Kowall of White Lake, state Rep. Klint Kesto of Commerce Township, former state Rep. Rocky Raczkowski of Troy, businesswoman Lena Epstein of Bloomfield Hills and Kristine Bonds of West Bloomfield Township, the daughter of longtime and deceased WXYZ anchor Bill Bonds.

Democrats competing for the open congressional seat include state Rep. Tim Greimel of Auburn Hills, entrepreneur Suneel Gupta of Birmingham, former Detroit immigration director Fayrouz Saad, digital manufacturing executive Haley Stevens of Rochester Hills, attorney Dan Haberman of Birmingham and radio host Nancy Skinner of Birmingham. Leonard Schwartz will run unopposed in the Libertarian primary.

Grand Rapids businessman Bill Gelineau and Redford teacher John Tatar are poised to compete in the Libertarian gubernatorial primary. They are among at least 33 Libertarians running for state or federal office who are expected to appear on primary ballots.

The total field of 991 potential candidates is larger than other recent gubernatorial election years, including 2014 (889), 2010 (969) and 2006 (919).

Johnson, the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee in 2016, finished a distant third to Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, with 3.6 percent of the general election vote. But the 172,136 votes for Johnson narrowly topped the 154,040 threshold to earn Libertarians major-party status and primary ballot placement for 2018.

Four other parties, including the Green Party, are qualified for the general election and can nominate candidates for the November ballot.

Michigan candidates

The number of candidates who filed for for state, federal office and judgeships in Michigan.

2002: 1,001

2004: 711

2006: 919

2008: 848

2010: 969

2012: 762

2014: 889

2016: 703

2018: 991

Note: 2018 figure is unofficial as of 4:43 p.m. Tuesday.

Source: Michigan Secretary of State’s Office.