Ronna McDaniel for Michigan governor? Report stirs speculation

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, revealed this week that she's considered running against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in the 2022 election, according to a Thursday report from Politico.

The national news outlet said McDaniel, the former chairwoman of the Michigan  Republican Party, made the remark during "a closed-door meeting on Wednesday with RNC members in Dallas."

The report has drawn the attention of Michigan Republicans who are still looking for a candidate to take on Whitmer, the incumbent Democrat who's gained national attention for her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whitmer won her first term in office in 2018 by 9 percentage points over then-Attorney General Bill Schuette.

Ronna McDaniel gets mentioned by Donald Trump during his speech. President Donald Trump makes a campaign stop at an airplane hangar in Freeland, Michigan on Thursday, September 10, 2020.

Despite the Politico report, it's unclear whether McDaniel, who has previously suggested she wouldn't run, is still considering a campaign against Whitmer. And some Republicans in the battleground state aren't certain whether McDaniel has ever seriously considered a bid.

"Gov. Whitmer’s dismal record of leadership has done lasting harm to Michigan families," said Richard Walters, chief of staff for the Republican National Committee. "Michigan would be vastly better off with a change in leadership, but the chairwoman has no desire to do anything else other than lead the Republican Party to victory in 2022 by taking back the House and Senate."

McDaniel was reelected to a two-year term as national committee chairwoman in January. During an appearance on "Michigan's Big Show" in March, McDaniel said she is "not looking to run for governor of Michigan."

"But I will definitely be involved in that race," she added, referring to her role with the national committee.

McDaniel, 48, of Northville is the granddaughter of former Michigan Gov. George Romney and niece of U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah.

Earlier this year, representatives of the Republican Governors Association met with former U.S. Senate candidate John James, radio host Tudor Dixon and businessman Kevin Rinke about potential campaigns, according to multiple sources with direct knowledge of the meetings. 

McDaniel campaigned heavily for former President Donald Trump in Michigan in the fall of 2020. To the governor's race, she would bring a well-known name, close ties to the former president and the ability to raise money.

Three days after Election Day, she appeared at an event with Laura Cox, then-chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party. McDaniel and Cox raised concerns about the administration of the election. Democrat Joe Biden won Michigan by 3 percentage points or 154,000 votes.

"We need to pursue these irregularities, and we need people to be patient and give us the time to investigate," McDaniel said during the press conference at the Oakland County Republican Party's headquarters.

As Michigan Republican Party chairwoman, McDaniel helped Trump win Michigan by 10,704 votes in 2016 against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Bill Ballenger, a former Republican lawmaker in Michigan and a longtime analyst of state politics, said McDaniel would be a viable candidate if she chose to run. Ballenger noted that Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump's former press secretary, is currently running for governor of Arkansas.

Ballenger said McDaniel's success as the party's chairwoman has been surprising.

"To be able to navigate the Trump wing of the party and the traditional establishment Republicans for four years and be reelected, I think it's really kinda remarkable," Ballenger said. 

On Thursday, the Michigan Democratic Party issued a memo criticizing the Republicans for not having a well-known candidate to run against Whitmer yet.

Ahead of the 2018 election, Whitmer launched her campaign committee on Jan. 3, 2017. For the 2014 election, when then-Republican Gov. Rick Snyder was seeking reelection, Democrat Mark Schauer formed his committee on May 28, 2013.

"Former MI GOP chair and current Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel also passed on a run, opting instead to lead the national party for two more years. We get it. Why trade one clown car for another?" the Democratic Party said, referring to McDaniel's past comments on the radio.