Ben Carson’s Michigan chairman backs Rubio

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., walks out on stage during a primary election night party at the Radisson hotel on Feb. 9, 2016 in Manchester, New Hampshire. After a strong third-place showing in the Iowa caucuses, Rubio was hoping to prove his presidential staying power by pulling away from the pack and moving closer to Donald Trump at the polls, but he was battling Cruz and Bush for third place.

Marco Rubio is a presidential candidate “who can rally and inspire and heal” the Republican party, said state Sen. Mike Shirkey, the former Michigan campaign chairman for Ben Carson.

Shirkey made the switch to the junior U.S. senator from Florida Thursday a few hours before the GOP presidential debate in Detroit.

Carson, a Detroit native and retired neurosurgeon, effectively ended his campaign Wednesday, less than a week before Michigan’s March 8 primary. He withdrew from Thursday’s GOP debate in his hometown and said he did not see a political path forward after losing all 11 states on Super Tuesday.

“I’ve been and remain a large fan of Ben Carson,” said Shirkey, R-Clark Lake, who has parted ways with the campaign. “I still think he’s the best candidate for this time and what we need in American, but he can’t win — can’t win this time.”

Shirkey said he found himself philosophically aligned with both Rubio and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas but has “deep-rooted concerns” about the Cruz campaign apparatus because of reports he’s heard from Carson field workers.

“I concluded the guy I think has the best chance to provide the healing necessary for the party once this process has played out is Marco Rubio,” he said.

That healing is necessary, Shirkey said, because GOP front-runner Donald Trump has exposed anger among activists — not just over the direction of the country in the past eight years, but over the “apparent deafness” of the Republican Party.

“I believe much of the strong support for Mr. Trump by certain aspects of the conservative movement is driven by their plain, raw frustration,” Shirkey said. “But I find it very difficult to support somebody who is very unpredictable in terms of where he stands on any issue from one day to the next.”

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who served as state chairman for the Jeb Bush campaign, has not announced support for another candidate since the former Florida governor dropped out of the race last month.

Spokesman John Sellek confirmed Thursday that Schuette will not be endorsing anyone else before the Michigan primary.

“Attorney General Schuette remains committed to defeating Hillary Clinton and ensuring a Republican wins the White House,” Sellek said.

Trump, Rubio, Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are set to debate at 9 p.m. Thursday night at the Fox Theatre. Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are scheduled to debate Sunday in Flint.

joosting@detroitnews.com