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Trump backs Tudor Dixon Lt. Gov. pick as Rebandt mounts GOP challenge

Garrett Soldano
Former gubernatorial candidate Garrett Soldano said days ago that he’s considering a run for lieutenant governor at this weekend’s Michigan GOP convention, but announced Monday that he had changed his mind. (Bridge photo by Jonathan Oosting)
  • Former President Donald Trump endorses Shane Hernandez, Tudor Dixon’s pick for lieutenant governor
  • Former Dixon rival Ralph Rebandt says he’ll challenge Hernandez for the nomination at the Michigan GOP convention
  • But Garrett Soldano announced Monday he would not join the race for lieutenant governor

LANSING — Former President Donald Trump on Monday endorsed gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon's pick for lieutenant governor, a move that could thwart efforts to contest the race at this weekend's Michigan Republican Party convention.

Shane Hernandez, a former state lawmaker who Dixon recently tapped to be her running mate, seems to be "an outstanding person" and "the MAGA movement should support the ticket," Trump said in a statement.

"This is who Tudor wants and therefore, Shane is who I want as your next Lieutenant Governor," Trump told GOP delegates, noting he had "checked" on Hernandez after talking to Dixon about her pick.

"The Radical Left Democrats and Fake News Media demand that Republicans be divided,” the former president continued. “We must work together to defeat them and, in particular, Gretchen Whitmer!"

Trump's endorsement came two hours after recently retired pastor Ralph Rebandt, who lost to Dixon in the Aug. 3 gubernatorial primary, confirmed he would seek the lieutenant governor nomination at Saturday's GOP convention. 

Former gubernatorial candidate Garrett Soldano had also considered a convention fight but announced earlier Monday he would not seek the lieutenant governor post.

Rebandt and Soldano supporters have argued they could help energize grassroots activists who have reshaped the Michigan GOP but are not overly enthused about Dixon, whose 18-percentage point primary win was fueled by support from the powerful DeVos family of West Michigan and a last-minute endorsement from Trump. 

In a statement, Rebandt said his work as a pastor gave him "unique insight into repairing the family and healing our state.” The Farmington Hills Republican also argued that his experience as a "parlamentarian" makes him "uniquely qualified" to preside over the state Senate, a primary responsibility of the lieutenant governor.

"The process of delegate nomination for Lieutenant Governor is a legitimate process allowed by Michigan Election Law and the Republican Party By-Laws and should not be viewed as divisive," Rebandt said, pledging to support Dixon's campaign even if he does not win the convention nomination to be her running mate. 

Dixon, the gubernatorial nominee who defeated Rebandt and Soldano in the Aug. 3 primary, named her preferred running mate on Friday. She wants state Rep. Shane Hernandez, once voted the “most conservative” House member, to help challenge Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist.

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“A united ticket will defeat Gretchen Whitmer, Dana Nessel, and Jocelyn Benson and we can begin to repair the damage they have done to our state,” Dixon said Sunday after making her first public appearance with Hernandez at the Woodward Dream Cruise in metro Detroit.

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But to secure the lieutenant governor nomination, Hernandez will need an “affirmative vote” from more than 50 percent of Republican delegates at Saturday’s convention, according to GOP rules. If he doesn’t get it, delegates could nominate other candidates from the convention floor. 

Rebandt, a recently retired pastor, held a convention planning meeting with supporters last week and made his candidacy official on Monday evening. 

“It is the will of many of the citizens of Michigan to offer their legitimate voice and by procedure, elect a Lieutenant Governor who will work with Tudor Dixon to protect the rights and interests of all the citizens of Michigan by exemplifying truth, respect, dignity, and love,” he said. 

Some GOP delegates are also encouraging Karla Wagner to run, according to social media posts. She served as campaign manager to fourth-place gubernatorial primary finisher Ryan Kelley. 

Soldano, who finished third in the primary with 192,442 votes, built an enthusiastic grassroots following by speaking out against Whitmer’s pandemic orders in 2020. In his campaign, he attacked Dixon as an “establishment” Republican but conceded his loss and urged supporters to back her in the general election. 

On Friday, Soldano raised the possibility of a convention fight just hours after Dixon announced Hernandez as her preferred running mate, telling supporters he’ll take “a few days” to consider a campaign for lieutenant governor. “I will continue to do my best and do what is right for our state, but more importantly, for the PEOPLE in our state,” Soldano wrote in a social media post.

Soldano stoked more interest on Saturday when he posted a photo of himself with presumed attorney general candidate Matthew DePerno, a Trump loyalist and favorite of conservative delegates. They met for lunch to “discuss the importance of grassroots enthusiasm to defeating Whitmer/Gilchrist,” Soldano wrote. “Inspired grassroots = stronger ticket!”

But Soldano backed down Monday, telling supporters that his life as an activist and political candidate means he’s been “absent” from his family for the past two-and-a-half years. 

“It's time I put all of my energy into them,” Soldano wrote on Facebook. “I appreciate all the encouragement and support over the past 72 hours. I have decided not to run for LT Governor.”

A convention fight could be a losing battle and hurt Dixon in the process, said Republican strategist Jamie Roe, who worked on Hernandez’s failed 2020 congressional campaign and will be a voting delegate this weekend.

“This is not helpful,” Roe said. “The first big decision that our nominee makes, and you’re going to try to undercut her? I don’t understand it. If your goal is actually to beat Gretchen Whitmer, why on earth do you do this?”

Roe and other supporters say Hernandez is far from an “establishment” pick and are confident he’ll win over delegates by the Saturday convention. 

Hernandez would bring legislative experience to the GOP ticket, something Dixon lacks, but he also boasts conservative credentials dating back to his time in the tea party movement. As chairman of the House Appropriations Committee in 2019 and 2020, Hernandez helped defeat Whitmer’s plan to fix roads by raising fuel taxes 45-cents per gallon. 

“He is a well thought-of conservative who's been around a hell of a lot longer than Garrett Soldano," Roe told Bridge Michigan. "He's been fighting in the trenches for the last 12 or 13 years for conservatives all over the state." 

While Hernandez had a conservative reputation in Lansing, GOP critics point out that he criticized Trump’s border wall proposal as “ridiculous” in 2016 and more recently supported former House Speaker Tom Leonard over DePerno for the attorney general nomination.

Experts say it may be difficult to deny Hernandez the lieutenant governor nomination this weekend if the state party uses a “voice vote” format, which would give the yet-to-be-named convention chair significant latitude to decide whether he has the votes necessary. The state party did not immediately respond Monday to Bridge Michigan questions about how the election will be conducted. 

In 2020, many Republican delegates booed incumbent Supreme Court Justice Beth Clement when asked to support her uncontested nomination for re-election, making it difficult to tell if she had received a majority of the vote. But the chairman nonetheless declared the “ayes have it” and put her back on the ballot. 

Assuming a similar procedure is used Saturday, “Hernandez will easily win the ‘affirmative vote from the convention floor,’ when the convention chair calls the yeas and nays,” GOP strategist Dennis Lennox wrote Friday on Twitter. 

Grassroots activists last attempted to name their own lieutenant governor nominee in 2014, when tea party activists tried but failed to knock incumbent Lt. Gov. Brian Calley off the ticket with Gov. Rick Snyder, who went on to win re-election to a second term. 

But newer party rules could make the process harder. Hernandez will enter the weekend convention as the only nominee for lieutenant governor. Alternatives can only be proposed from the floor if Hernandez twice fails to receive an affirmative vote from GOP delegates. Dixon would have the opportunity to address delegates before the second vote. 

It’s possible an outsider candidate could still win the nomination, according to GOP consultant John Yob of Strategic National in Grand Rapids, a convention expert who helped Calley survive the 2014 challenge and in April helped DePerno win the attorney general endorsement.

Yob did not respond to Bridge Michigan inquiries but said Monday on Twitter that his firm had polled convention delegates over the weekend and found 54 percent “would vote down” Hernandez, “opening up the nomination for others.”  Soldano led a hypothetical race against Hernandez and Rebandt, Yob wrote. 

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Kelley, the gubernatorial candidate whose campaign manager is now considering a convention run of her own, had also been considering a run for lieutenant governor but announced Friday he would not pursue the nomination and will instead focus his efforts on defeating abortion and voting rights ballot initiatives.

Soldano and Kelley discussed those potential ballot proposals in a weekend video on Facebook but did not directly address a potential convention fight. 

“We do have some problems, obviously, in the state of Michigan with the establishment vs. the people, and we have to have some type of unity going forward,” Soldano said during the livestream. “The people have every right to have a seat at this table. They truly do.”

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