Craig plans write-in campaign for governor; Johnson tries to halt ballot printing

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Former Detroit police Chief James Craig, who was disqualified from the gubernatorial ballot for the August primary amid alleged petition forgeries, announced Thursday that he intends to run as a write-in candidate for the Republican nomination.

Craig revealed his plans on Fox 2's "Let It Rip" during a joint appearance alongside fellow disqualified GOP gubernatorial hopeful Perry Johnson, who also failed to get on the Aug. 2 ballot over a slew of forged signatures.

"I'm not giving up," Craig told host Roop Raj. "They have robbed me ... And guess what? There are so many people that reached out through my campaign and said: 'Chief, you’re a fighter. Don’t give up. Continue to fight. We need you to do what you're doing.' "

James Craig, the former Detroit police chief, announced his formal plans to launch a write-in campaign for the Republican nomination for governor Thursday night on Fox 2 News' "Let It Rip" talk show.

Johnson, a wealthy businessman from Bloomfield Hills who has spent millions of dollars on his campaign, said a statewide write-in campaign would be "very, very difficult."

A statistician by trade, Johnson said he estimates it would cost $22 million to win a write-in campaign for the GOP nomination.

Johnson asked a federal judge Monday to order the Michigan Secretary of State's office to "immediately cease the printing of August 2022 primary ballots."

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith set a hearing for Tuesday on Johnson's request for a restraining order. Late Thursday, Johnson attorney Eric Esshaki filed a motion in federal court seeking an emergency hearing before Tuesday in order to halt the printing of ballots.

Legally, absentee ballots must be mailed 45 days before an election to overseas voters, such as members of the U.S. military. The 45-day clock begins June 18.

Esshaki argued late Thursday in a court filing that Goldsmith needs to consider Johnson's arguments for getting back on the ballot because of a nationwide paper shortage that would make reprinting ballots difficult.

"At the (previous) hearing, they said there's not enough paper to print another set of ballots," Johnson said Thursday on Fox 2.

Bloomfield Hills businessman Perry Johnson has asked a federal judge to stop the printing of ballots for the Aug. 2 primary.

Last month, the Michigan Bureau of Elections reported 11,113 of the 21,305 signatures Craig's campaign submitted to appear on the ballot were invalid, leaving him 4,808 signatures shy of the 15,000-signature threshold. For Johnson, state elections officials identified 9,393 invalid signatures and 13,800 facially valid signatures.

Craig and Johnson were among five Republican gubernatorial candidates who fell short of the 15,000 signature minimum after the Bureau of Elections determined thousands of signatures were forged by circulators. The other disqualified candidates were financial adviser Michael Markey of Grand Haven, Michigan State Police Capt. Michael Brown of Stevensville and entrepreneur Donna Brandenburg of Byron Center.

The Board of State Canvassers deadlocked May 26 on whether the group of candidates should be on the ballot.

Craig, Johnson and their other disqualified opponents appealed the decisions in state courts, arguing that the bureau should have examined each signature individually rather than invalidating whole pages from suspected fraudulent circulators.

Last Friday, the Michigan Supreme Court upheld the decisions of the Bureau of Elections and the Board of State Canvassers to keep Brandenburg, Brown, Craig, Johnson and Markey off the ballot.

That same day, the Bureau of Elections also sent out the official candidate list to local clerks, launching the process of formatting and printing ballots for the Aug. 2 primary.

Before the petition decision, Craig was considered a front-runner in a large GOP field of 10 gubernatorial candidates that has been whittled down to five, including Ottawa County real estate broker Ryan Kelley, who was arrested Thursday by the FBI and charged with four misdemeanors for his involvement in the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

During his appearance on Fox 2 News' talk show Thursday night, Raj asked Craig whether he believed he had the name recognition to mount a successful write-in campaign. 

"Absolutely. ... This is crap. You know it’s crap," Craig said, referring to the petition issue. "I have been approached by so many folks across the state who have called me and said: 'Chief, continue to fight.' I got emails, text messages through my campaign that says: 'Chief, we know you were robbed.' And you know what? I'm not going to roll over. Because this is not about me as a candidate. This is more about the voters of Michigan. They deserve to have the best candidate. And I'mma tell you: I'm going to win. I am the best candidate to unseat Governor Whitmer."

Craig suggested Thursday he and Johnson "should be partners." Johnson said he's not interested in being Craig's running mate.

Democratic incumbent Gretchen Whitmer is seeking her second term for the state's highest office and announced in March that her campaign submitted about 30,000 petition signatures to appear on the ballot.

Shortly after Craig's announcement Thursday night, the Michigan Democratic Party criticized his decision.

"If the last few weeks of submitting signatures from dead voters, skipping debates, and conducting interviews from the parking lot of a local watering hole are any indication of what’s to come, the fourth iteration of James Craig’s campaign is sure to end as well as the first three," the party said in a press release.

Staff Writers Craig Mauger and Robert Snell and Politics Editor Chad Livengood contributed.