Engler warns GOP Whitmer 'will spend whatever she chooses to spend' in re-election fight

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Mackinac Island — Former Gov. John Engler warned Republicans Sunday that the eventual GOP nominee for governor would be outspent by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ahead of the 2022 election.

Engler, who is treasurer for a political action committee for gubernatorial candidate James Craig, said Republicans have to unite around criticism of Whitmer’s pandemic response to unseat the governor. He made the comments at the close of the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference.

“We’re going to be outspent again, let there be no illusions about that,” Engler said. “We’re up against a set of resources that are staggering. The incumbent governor, she will spend whatever she chooses to spend.

“If it's $50 million, she’ll have it; if she wants to spend $80 million, she’ll have it.”

Former Gov. John Engler warned Republicans Sunday that the eventual GOP nominee for governor would be outspent by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ahead of the 2022 election.

Republicans won’t have as much money as Whitmer, but they’ll have enough, Engler said.

He said the party should unite behind criticisms of the governor's pandemic response and argued that no money in the world can rewrite the record in Washington. Whitmer is tied to that record by her support for the president, Engler said.

“Don’t underestimate the common sense of people,” he said. “They sense when it’s unfair. They sense when somebody’s telling a story. And they’re not going to believe what they’ve been told when they can see with their own eyes that things are very, very different.”

The Michigan Democratic Party on Sunday criticized Engler's comments, which they said were an example of a "divisive message that offers hyperpartisan obstruction at the expense of bridge-building solutions."

"Gov. Whitmer — who has delivered strong, consistent leadership throughout this pandemic — won’t be playing that game because showing up everyday to put all Michiganders first is her priority," said Rodericka Applewhaite, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Democratic Party. "Perhaps John Engler should work with his preferred candidate James Craig to help him come up with some of his own priorities instead.”

Whitmer reported having $10.74 million available as of July 20.

The Michigan GOP filed suit against Whitmer last week in federal court, challenging about $3.4 million in campaign contributions that the governor raised this year in response to recall efforts against her.

The $3.4 million is a large chunk of the $8.6 million disclosed by Whitmer’s campaign for the first part of 2021 and was gathered from donors who surpassed the $7,150 individual cap that normally applies to individuals running for governor.

Whitmer’s campaign argued she was able to collect more than the cap because of many recall efforts against the governor. But opponents have noted none of those recall efforts have gained traction.

The Michigan Republican Party argued in its suit that the current recall policy violates the equal protection and freedom of speech rights of GOP candidates running for governor.

Other Republican candidates for governor have fallen far short of Whitmer's haul so far. Mattawan chiropractor Garrett Soldano reported having raised $624,847 as of July, the highest of any of the GOP candidates.

Craig, Detroit's former police chief, started a committee to run for governor in late July so he won’t have to file his first disclosure until October. Metro Detroit businessman Kevin Rinke, also a candidate for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, said he is planning to invest $10 million in his campaign.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

Staff Writer Craig Mauger contributed.