Kevin Rinke's campaign launches attack ad saying Tudor Dixon is backed by 'RINOs'

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan's GOP primary race for governor heated up Thursday with businessman Kevin Rinke's campaign developing an ad blasting commentator Tudor Dixon as an "establishment" Republican who can't be trusted.

The commercial is going to be aired on TV, according to a source familiar with the Rinke campaign's planning.

The development marks one of the most aggressive attacks of the primary contest so far and features a self-funding Republican candidate, Rinke, criticizing Betsy DeVos, one of the Michigan GOP's most prominent donors who served as former President Donald Trump's education secretary.

The ad comes 19 days before the Aug. 2 election and as Republicans wait to see whether Trump will endorse one of the five gubernatorial candidates.

Republican gubernatorial candidates Tudor Dixon, Kevin Rinke and Ralph Rebandt listening during the debate.

Many believe Trump's endorsement could be decisive in the race. The GOP hopefuls are seeking their party's nomination to challenge Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in November.

Trump plays a main role in the new 30-second ad from Rinke's campaign.

"We've seen it before: Establishment Republicans, like Tudor Dixon, who say anything to win President Trump's support, then, betray him when it matters most," the ad says. "Yep, that's Tudor Dixon.

"She claims to be for Trump. But she's been endorsed by the RINO (Republican in name only) establishment's leading never Trumpers."

Dixon fired back at Rinke in a statement Thursday, noting allegations that were made against him in discrimination lawsuits in the 1990s.

"Kevin’s career is littered with voluminous accusations of discrimination, sexual harassment complaints from both women and men and 'disgusting behavior,' so it’s no surprise he’s using the same tactics to end his failing campaign," Dixon said. "I will remain focused on leading the Michigan comeback and forging a family-friendly future for our state."

Rinke has denied the past lawsuits' claims.

Katie Martin, Rinke's campaign spokeswoman, accused Dixon of deceiving Trump and the people of Michigan.

"It's a shame that Tudor Dixon has pretended to support President Trump while trying to hide her deep ties with people who betrayed President Trump," Martin said.

The Rinke ad shows an image of west Michigan's Betsy DeVos, whose family endorsed Dixon in May, along with images of Trump critics like U.S. Reps. Adam Kinzinger, R-Illinois, and Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming.

"Worse, Tudor Dixon has taken millions from the same billionaires who tried to illegally remove Trump from office," the Rinke ad says.

There's no proof yet in campaign finance disclosures that Dixon's campaign has received "millions" from anyone, including the DeVos family.

Betsy DeVos resigned from Trump's Cabinet a day after the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol when Trump supporters tried to disrupt the certification of Democrat Joe Biden's 2020 presidential election victory. She has since acknowledged that she discussed the possibility of invoking the 25th Amendment with other Cabinet members to remove Trump before his term ended, according to CNN.

The new Rinke ad also includes an image of U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, as it discusses "establishment Republicans." But Rinke contributed to Romney's 2012 presidential campaign, according to federal campaign finance disclosures.

Intrigue about whom Trump will endorse in the Republican primary for governor has amped up in recent days as the election nears.

Meshawn Maddock, co-chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, referenced Trump-backed attorney general candidate Matt DePerno and secretary of state candidate Kristina Karamo in a statement about the situation Thursday.

"All of us who are loyal to President Trump have an obligation to make certain that our nominee for governor commits now to support President Trump's candidates for AG (attorney general) and SOS (secretary of state) in 2022 and President Trump for reelection in 2024," Maddock said.

Trump has spoken positively about Dixon in the past, and many Republicans believe she's a top contender for his endorsement. In February, her campaign held a fundraiser at Trump's Mar-a-Lago property in Florida. Trump spoke at the event and called her "very special."

"I think that we would be kidding ourselves if we didn’t say that his endorsement will absolutely frame every race in America," Dixon told The Detroit News in an interview last year. "He’s the leader of the party right now.”

A July 5-8 statewide poll, commissioned by The Detroit News and WDIV-TV, found that 78% of Michigan voters who identified themselves as "strong Republicans" have a favorable view of Trump. Among voters who say they lean Republican, 53% said they view the former president favorably.

Overall, though, just 35% of respondents had a favorable view of Trump, according to the survey of 600 likely Michigan general election voters, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

cmauger@detroitnews.com