James Craig says he's 'the candidate to beat' as GOP primary race takes shape
Lansing — Former Detroit police Chief James Craig described himself as the "candidate to beat" and the "front runner" in the race to be the Republican Party's nominee for governor as the crowded contest took shape Monday, a day before the filing deadline.
Craig's campaign said it turned in 21,735 petition signatures. The threshold to qualify for the ballot is 15,000 valid signatures. The deadline is 4 p.m. Tuesday.
The campaign of businessman Kevin Rinke of Bloomfield Township said it submitted more than 21,000 signatures on Monday afternoon. Conservative commentator Tudor Dixon of Norton Shores and businessman Perry Johnson of Bloomfield Hills plan to file their signatures on Tuesday.
Standing outside the Michigan Department of State office building in downtown Lansing, Craig fielded questions from reporters, citing polling data that he said showed he's in the lead in the August primary contest. The numbers also demonstrated that his campaign was not in disarray, he contended.
"I know I am a target," Craig said. "I know that I'm the one they'd like to topple off. I am the candidate to most likely win against Gov. (Gretchen) Whitmer. So I am getting it from both sides.
"I am getting it from my own party. And I am getting it from the Democrats. I am going to stay the course."
Craig, a first-time political candidate, announced his retirement as Detroit's top cop in May 2021, ending a 44-year career in law enforcement. He launched his campaign for governor in July.
He's one of 12 Republicans who've been pursuing their party's nomination to challenge Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in November. It's possible that 10 of the candidates will make the ballot. Gubernatorial candidates must submit at least 15,000 valid signatures to get their names on the August primary ballot.
Six GOP candidates filed their signatures before Craig did, including chiropractor Garrett Soldano of Mattawan and Michigan State Police Capt. Michael Brown.
Real estate broker Ryan Kelley of Allendale, businesswoman Donna Brandenburg of Byron Center, financial adviser of Michael Markey of Grand Haven and Pastor Ralph Rebandt of Farmington Hills have submitted signatures.
If all 10 of the candidates make the ballot, it would be the largest gubernatorial primary in state history, according to Lansing-based based political newsletter Michigan Information & Research Service News.
After Tuesday's deadline, other campaigns have seven days to challenge a candidate's petition signatures. People who sign the nominating petitions must be registered voters and provide all of the required information. Residents aren't supposed to sign multiple candidates' petitions.
The Board of State Canvassers must complete its canvass of the petitions by May 31.
In addition to submitting his signatures, Rinke's campaign launched two statewide media buys that are running on television and radio.
"I know Michigan and our country are at a tipping point, and we need a new kind of leadership," Rinke said in a statement. "We need a governor who has decades of executive experience listening to the people he leads, empowering them to be part of the solution, and who won’t back down."
Dixon's campaign said it has gathered close to the maximum amount allowed: about 29,700 signatures.
And on Monday morning, John Yob, a political consultant working with Johnson's campaign, said Johnson will submit "far more signatures" than any of the other Republican candidates had at that point.
But Craig argued that he has higher name recognition across the state than the other GOP contenders despite the fact he hasn't aired television ads yet.
His lead in early polling numbers refutes the notion his campaign is "kinda unraveling," he said. Two campaign managers and one top consultant have left or been forced out of Craig's campaign since it launched last year. Craig said his new consultants from Axiom Strategies had made getting the petition signatures the No. 1 priority.
"Candidly, and I say this with a lot of humility, I am the candidate to beat," Craig told reporters Monday.
But he wouldn't weigh in on which candidates for secretary of state and attorney general he would like to see win at Saturday's Michigan Republican Party convention in Grand Rapids. And asked if he will release his tax return information, Craig said he would "consider it."