GOP governor hopeful Rinke launches statewide ad focused on family business

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Republican Michigan gubernatorial candidate Kevin Rinke launched a $500,000, two-week ad buy Wednesday on television, radio and digital focusing on Rinke's decision to run the family car sales business after his brother died in a plane crash. 

In a statement announcing the ad campaign, Rinke of Bloomfield Township said he was just 25 years old at the time of his brother's death but afterward grew the family's General Motors dealerships "to become some of the largest dealerships in Michigan and the world." Rinke is the former owner of the Rinke Automotive Group.

"In a time of sorrow, he led the family business out of crisis," a narrator says in the ad. "...Today, Michigan families are hurting and, at a time when our economy, education and government are broken, Kevin Rinke is the conservative leader who will rise to the challenge and restore our great state."

The initial two-week statewide ad buy announced Wednesday is part of the $10 million investment 60-year-old Rinke promised to make toward his campaign in July in a bid to make it through the field of 11 GOP candidates hoping to win the party's nomination.

The Michigan Democratic Party on Wednesday released a statement criticizing Rinke for furthering false narratives about unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election and failing to focus on issues that matter to Michigan families. 

“Even though it’s been months since he joined the crowded Republican gubernatorial primary, Kevin Rinke has failed to offer Michigan working families any solutions for the issues they care about because he’s too busy endlessly relitigating an election that has already been audited hundreds of times," said Rodericka Applewhaite, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Democratic Party.

The ad campaign follows Rinke's November campaign launch that featured commercials contending the state faced a choice between an American muscle car and a Yugo, a car known for its unreliable engineering and built in the former nation of communist Yugoslavia. Rinke compared himself to a GTO and Whitmer to a Yugo.

"This is a choice we face as a nation and in Michigan: freedom or failure," Rinke said in the ad.

RInke is one of a few GOP candidates in the gubernatorial primary able to self-fund his race, a strategy that worked for Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder in 2010 when he used about $6 million of his own wealth to boost his primary campaign.

Republican Businessman Perry Johnson kicked off his campaign with television ads on Super Bowl Sunday that introduced the 74-year-old Bloomfield Hills businessman to voters as a "quality guru" focused on statistics and perfection. The Super Bowl commercials were part of a $1.5 million advertising effort that continued through March 8.

Rinke will face formidable fundraising competition in the general election should he win the primary. In January, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's campaign had $9.9 million available to spend.

At the start of the year, Rinke had the most money available of the GOP gubernatorial candidates thanks to $2 million that largely was self-funded, according to January campaign finance reports. He had about $1.5 million left on hand at the time. 

At that time, Johnson had only recently joined the race and didn't need to submit a campaign finance report. Former Detroit police James Craig came second to Rinke at the beginning of the year, reporting about $845,970 on hand. In total Craig as of January had raised a little more than $2 million since launching his committee in July. 

While Rinke and Johnson launch their own ads, other groups have begun running ads for and against Whitmer. 

In December, a Democratic group launched ads over the college football bowl season to celebrate $400-per-vehicle refunds Michigan drivers are expected to get because of a 2019 auto insurance reform law signed by Whitmer. The 30-second ads were run by Put Michigan First, a group affiliated with the Democratic Governors Association. 

The Republican Governors Association ran one of the first ads in the 2022 gubernatorial race in May, when it criticized Whitmer for a trip to visit her father in Florida. On Tuesday, the Michigan Republican Party released a digital ad criticizing the governor for failing to "fix the damn roads" in Michigan, contrasting her promise on the 2018 campaign trail with clips of drivers frustrated with Michigan roads.

Craig Mauger contributed to this report.