James Craig won't participate in first Michigan GOP gubernatorial debate

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Former Detroit police Chief James Craig will not participate in the first debate featuring the Republican candidates for governor, his campaign said Thursday afternoon.

In a statement several hours before the 7:45 p.m. debate in Livingston County, Craig's spokesman Ted Goodman said the candidate had a "prior commitment" and would be giving remarks at a Mechanical Contractors Association annual meeting.

"The chief looks forward to upcoming debates and opportunities to share his message with voters," Goodman said.

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

Eight of the 10 GOP candidates for governor will participate in the Thursday night debate, according to the Livingston County Republican Party and Michigan Information & Research Service (MIRS) News, the two entities organizing it.

Donna Brandenburg of Byron Center declined an invitation to take part, according to MIRS News.

"Craig initially committed to the debate, reserving a table for his supporters to watch his performance live," MIRS News wrote in a Thursday story. "However, the campaign notified Livingston County GOP Chair Meghan Reckling earlier in the week they no longer needed the table."

But Goodman said Craig didn't "pull out" of the debate.

Some Republicans see Craig, who has established a reputation and following in Metro Detroit, as the front runner in the 10 candidate field to challenge Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in November. However, his campaign has faced staffing turnover, and his petition signatures to get on the Aug. 2 primary ballot have spurred claims of fraud.

In a statement Thursday, Rodericka Applewhaite, spokeswoman for the Michigan Democratic Party, labeled Craig the "Detroit dodger."

"Given the state of his stumbling campaign, it’s tough to say if he’s dodging the Livingston County debate for fear of being held accountable for his fraudulent activity or if not wanting to get needled on his wrong-for-Michigan agenda is the bigger motivating factor," Applewhaite said. "Either way, James Craig is once again showing working families that, to him, leading from the front really just means cowering on the sidelines.”

WWMT and Sinclair Broadcasting will provide livestreams of Thursday's debate, according to MIRS News.

cmauger@detroitnews.com