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Finley & Jacques: Notes from Mackinac

Random observations from the Michigan Republican Leadership Conference on Mackinac Island:

►Just two potential presidential candidates are at the conference, which in the past has been a major platform for GOP White House hopefuls. Neither are ready to commit. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem says her focus is on her own reelection in 2022. And Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is waiting to see what former President Donald Trump does. "If Trump is in the race, he clears the field," Cruz told us. "I had dinner with him recently and he asked me about my future plans. I said, 'Mr. President, that depends on your future plans.'"

Nolan Finley and Ingrid Jacques interview Sen. Ted Cruz on Mackinac Island during the Republican Leadership Conference.

►Former Gov. John Engler is here, and says he will lead a Super Pac to fundraise for James Craig, the former Detroit police chief running for his old job. Engler told us he believes Craig will draw considerable national donor interest, and will have all the money he needs to be competitive with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. 

►We sat down with Tudor Dixon, the conservative TV host who is also seeking the gubernatorial nomination. She's earnest and intelligent, but with zero experience in politics or government. She says she has met with Trump, who has made beating Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer his priority, but hasn't been assured of his endorsement. Trump has praised both her and Craig. 

►State Sen. Aric Nesbitt of Lawton and state Rep. Matthew Hall of Marshall are palling around the island together. The two are the favorite bets to be the next Republican leaders of the Senate and House.

►Pete Hoekstra, former congressman and ambassador showed up for his panel with two Teamster officials. It's a rarity to have labor represented at a GOP event. They argued for more support for skilled trade workers, and against Whitmer's efforts to shut down the potentially job rich Line 5 tunnel project. Hoekstra investigated the Teamsters while in congress, and then helped them get out of government receivership.

►The Republican Party touts its diversity efforts, but this weekend the crowd is again overwhelmingly White. We only saw one African American among the group of young people brought to the island by Craig to pass out flyers.

►Craig seemed surprised when we told him the Southeastern Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police had endorsed one of his lesser known opponents in the Republican primary. Their nod went to Ralph Rebrandt, a police chaplain who is running on a platform of a God-focused government.

►There's a lot of buzz about the early redistricting maps. Particularly eyebrow raising is that Republican Congressmembers Bill Huizenga and Fred Upton are drawn into the same mid-Michigan district, while a neighboring district was drawn with no incumbent. Democratic Reps. Elissa Slotkin and Dan Kildee are also drawn together, as are Democrat Haley Stevens and Republican Lisa McClain.

►The crowd, pegged by the state party at 1,600, is larger than we expected, considering our experience last week at the Detroit Regional Chamber's Mackinac Policy Conference, where attendance was well below projections. No evidence of COVID worries this weekend. Few masks, and no protocols to guard against spreading the virus. It will be interesting to see what attendees experience over the next week or so.