James Craig says he's 'running,' launches committee for Michigan governor

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing For the first time, Republican James Craig, the former Detroit police chief, described himself as "running" for Michigan governor Wednesday night after launching an exploratory committee earlier in the day.

Craig, who retired June 1 after working more than four decades in law enforcement, is seen by many in the GOP as the early favorite to win the party's nomination to challenge Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2022. A formal announcement of a campaign for governor with events and rallies will likely occur after Labor Day, a statement announcing the formation of the Chief James Craig for Governor Exploratory Committee said.

However, during an appearance on "Tucker Carlson Tonight" on Fox News, Craig said he was "running" and planned to hold Whitmer accountable.

“We’re part of a movement," Craig told Carlson. "We are going to take the state back.”

The new committee will allow him to raise and spend money to advance his bid, something he hasn't been able to do over the last two months as he's openly considered a jump into politics. Craig has made a string of appearances on Fox News, met privately with GOP leaders and given two public speeches at Republican events.

Wednesday's press release said the new committeewas the first step toward formally launching Craig's campaign. The former chief also unveiled a video titled "Leading from the Front," announced an upcoming listening tour and debuted a website, chiefjamescraig.com.

Former City of Detroit Police Chief, James Craig, greets Jackson area Republicans, after giving a speech, Tuesday evening, July 6, 2021, at the historic, Under The Oaks Memorial Park in downtown Jackson.

"I led as chief of police — and began my life — on the streets of Detroit," Craig said in the statement. "Now it is time to travel the state, and visit other communities.

"I will be talking with law enforcement, hosting small business roundtables, and meeting with voters in their homes to hear about the negative impact the current governor’s policies are having on their communities, their workplaces and their families."

Craig joins seven Republicans who have already formed campaign fundraising committees for governor, including anti-lockdown activist and chiropractor Garrett Soldano of Mattawan and conservative commentator Tudor Dixon of Norton Shores.

Metro Detroit businessman Kevin Rinke of Bloomfield Township has said he's "seriously considering" running for governor. And former U.S. Senate candidate John James of Farmington Hills is another potential candidate whom Michigan Republicans are watching, but he has said little about a possible run.

Candidates who already have been raising money will have to file disclosures with the state on Monday. The campaign finance reporting period that began on Jan. 1 ended on Tuesday, meaning Craig, who formed his committee Wednesday, won't have to report his donors and spending until Oct. 20.

Whitmer's campaign revealed that it had raised $8.5 million in 2021 as of Tuesday. The incumbent governor's campaign says she has more than $10 million in cash available to spend.

Craig faced criticism from some Democrats on Wednesday for describing his new committee for governor as "exploratory," something that is somewhat unusual in Michigan. But former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder took a similar approach when he ran ahead of the 2010 election. Snyder formed his committee in March 2009, calling it "exploratory." Three months later in June, he filed paperwork to amend the name to remove the word "exploratory."

On Monday, Jeff Timmer, a longtime Republican consultant in Michigan who has been a vocal critic of former President Donald Trump, filed a campaign finance complaint against Craig. Timmer said the former chief had violated the law by not officially forming a fundraising committee yet. Timmer contended in his complaint that Craig had spent money on gas, internet and consultants to advance his campaign, which he hadn't formally launched.

John Yob, a political consultant who appeared at an event with Craig in Grand Rapids on Monday night, pushed back on Timmer's complaint. Yob, who worked with former Gov. Rick Snyder on his 2010 campaign, sent out Craig's press release Wednesday.

In a statement, the Michigan Democratic Party said Craig was continuing to hide where he stands on key issues.

"James Craig is just another politician that thinks he can get through this messy and crowded GOP field of far-right extremists without any accountability on his stances — clinging to this non-existent 'exploratory' status is just the latest of his question-dodging tactics," said Lavora Barnes, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party. 

Craig's experience leading the police department in Michigan's largest city and his reputation as a fighter have many within the GOP excited about his expected entry into the race. However, there are many unknowns about the former chief, including his position on an array of issues and how he'll handle questions about Trump, who has become a political lightning rod.

cmauger@detroitnews.com