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Big-spending Rinke joins 11 other Republicans in bid for Michigan governor

Kevin Rinke, a former auto dealer, launched a TV blitz on Monday that touts his Republican candidacy for governor and takes aim at Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. (screenshot)

LANSING — Bloomfield Hills businessman Kevin Rinke is running for governor, he confirmed Monday, joining a crowded field of Republicans seeking to challenge Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2022.

Rinke is the 12th candidate to declare ahead of next year’s August primary, and while he is not the most well known, he is perhaps the best funded: The former auto dealership owner has said he plans to pump $10 million of his own money into the race.

Money doesn’t always translate into election victories — Shri Thanedar put more than $10 million into his gubernatorial campaign in 2018 before finishing third to Whitmer in the Democratic primary — but it can help candidates get their message out to potential voters.

Rinke is already spending.

His campaign on Monday launched what it called a six-figure advertising spree on broadcast, digital and cable systems across Michigan. Rinke’s first ad plays up his auto industry roots by putting him behind the wheel of a powerful Pontiac GTO while comparing Whitmer to a Yugo. 

In a statement, Rinke argued the American Dream that his family realized is "under attack" in Whitmer's Michigan.

"The problems are painfully clear: a tyrannical government ruled by career politicians; small businesses shuttered across the state; voting irregularities that threaten the integrity of our elections; Critical Race Theory that indoctrinates, not educates, our children; and a governor who acts like a monarch, not an elected leader," he said. 

A $10 million war chest could give Rinke an early edge in the GOP primary campaign, where Detroit Police Chief James Craig is so far the leading fundraiser with $1.4 million in contributions through Oct. 20. 

Whitmer, meanwhile, has posted huge fundraising numbers. She recently reported more than $12 million in cash reserves but likely will have to return or redistribute millions in excess contributions she accepted to fight failed recall campaigns.

Michigan Democratic Party spokesperson Rodericka Applewhaite accused Rinke of “extreme views” because he calls 2020 a “tainted election,” echoing false claims by former President Donald Trump. 

“The MIGOP already had a messy, divisive, unsettled primary on their hands and Kevin Rinke’s entrance into the race only complicates that further,” Applewhaite said in a statement,“Michiganders deserve a governor that’s actually going to fight for working families and the issues they care about.”

While there are now a dozen Republicans running for governor, it is unlikely all of them will make the ballot. To qualify for the 2022 primary, major party candidates will need to collect at least 15,000 valid voter signatures by April 16. 

Here’s who else is trying: 

James Craig, The Chief: The former Detroit Police chief was recruited by top Republican Party brass and is considered the early frontrunner for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. He’s touting his leadership record in the state’s largest city, where his police department managed to keep relative peace during 2020 racial justice protests, but he has faced lawsuits claiming his officers used  excessive force against protesters. Craig has not directly addressed Trump’s allegations of election fraud in Detroit, but in August joined calls for an "extensive audit" of the 2020 contest.   

Garrett Soldano, The Lockdown Activist: A Kalamazoo-area chiropractor, Soldano rose to prominence last year as an online activist opposed to Whitmer’s COVID-19 lockdown orders and other pandemic response regulations. He co-founded a protest group called Stand Up Michigan and enjoys a strong following among conservative grassroots activists rallying against so-called “RINOS” — Republicans In Name Only. He has called for a “full forensic audit” of Michigan’s 2020 election results.

Tudor Dixon, The Conservative Commentator: A former district sales manager for a steel company, Dixon in 2019 began co-hosting America's Voice Live, a conservative online news program. The Norton Shores Republican caught Trump's attention in August when she called on state legislators to investigate Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and 2020 election-related grants from nonprofits funded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Ryan Kelley, The Protester: The Allendale Township planning commissioner and real estate agent helped organize protests against Whitmer in 2020, invited militia members to provide security at his events and urged the FBI to arrest the governor because of her COVID-19 orders. Kelley also participated in “stop the steal” election rallies and was filmed at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 encouraging protesters who attempted to stop Congress from certifying the 2020 presidential election. 

Donna Brandenburg, The Horse Rescuer: An entrepreneur who founded and runs multiple firms and rescues horses, Brandenburg has touted her experience creating jobs in a variety of industries, including energy rail, real estate and technology. Brandenburg calls "election integrity" a priority and has spread unproven claims about the 2020 election. 

Michael Brown, The Captain: A Michigan State Police captain who boasts an endorsement from conservative rocker Ted Nugent, Brown has touted his own law enforcement bonafides while accusing the state GOP of playing favorites with James. The Stevensville Republican is a former Marine who has accused Whitmer of "job destruction, ridiculous shutdowns" and "disrespect to the citizen," while playing up his opposition to abortion and support for the Second Amendment, pledging there will be no California style gun grabbign under my watch.”

Ralph Rebrandt, The Pastor: The Oakland County Republican has served as lead pastor at Oakland Hills Community Church since 1987 and is also chaplain for the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police and several other agencies. Rebrandt is campaigning on what he calls the Lighthouse Initiative, which emphasizes “God, family (and) country” and pledges to make Michigan a place where "your voice is heard, your concerns are respected and your vote is counted."

Bob Scott, The Substitute: The Howell resident works as a substitute teacher and is vice president of the Evangelical Alliance Ministerial Association. Scott has pledged he will never leave the Legislature "on the sidelines" during a public health emergency and will never allow one branch of government "to determine what is essential and nonessential." His website blasts Whitmer’s pandemic orders as “totalitarian” and “designed to help bring us into the new World Order.”

Austin Chenge, The First In: Describing himself as a Grand Rapids business owner and Army veteran, Chenge has turned heads by vowing to "cancel Black History Month," make Michigan a "constitutional carry" state for gun owners and cancel the state's election equipment contract with Dominion Voting Systems. Chenge touts his status as the first Republican to file campaign paperwork, but candidate eligibility issues may prevent him from making the 2022 ballot.

Articia Bomer, The Challenger: The Detroiter worked as a poll challenger at Detroit's TCF Center in 2020 and claimed in an affidavit she witnessed "many election irregularities," including city workers wearing Black Lives Matter face masks. Bomer describes herself as a "document specialist" and has run for public office several times, including 2020, when she received fewer than 2,000 votes as the U.S. Taxpayers Party candidate for the 13th Congressional District.

Evan Space, The Explorer: ​​The Lansing resident served in the Michigan Army National Guard and has operated a window washing company. Space has proposed some novel policies, including appointment of a designated "Lt. Governor to the Upper Peninsula," and says he wants to make Michigan a hub for space exploration. He also ran for governor in 2018 but did not collect enough signatures to make the GOP primary ballot.

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