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What to watch in Michigan primary: Trump factor, poll challengers, late results

Republican gubernatorial candidates Tudor Dixon, Ryan Kelley, Kevin Rinke, Ralph Rebandt and Garrett Soldano. The winner of the Tuesday primary advances to the November general election to face Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat.
  • Michigan Republicans will pick which candidate to take on Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
  • Trump has endorsed in 10 state House races and a contested Congressional
  • Democratic incumbents square off in legislative, congressional races

LANSING — Months of campaigning comes to a head Tuesday, as Michigan voters who haven’t already cast absentee ballots will head to the polls to decide contested primaries for governor, state Legislature, Senate, Congress and more


The Aug. 2 primary is the first major statewide election since November 2020, when then-President Donald Trump’s 154,188-vote loss spawned global conspiracy theories that nearly upended the democratic process.

Trump is not on the ballot this time around, but the former president continues to loom large in Republican primaries. President Joe Biden does as well, as his dismal approval ratings threaten to drag down Democrats in the general election. 

Here are some of the top races – and storylines – Bridge Michigan will be following on Election Day and beyond: 

Which Republican will run against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer?

Tudor Dixon may be the favorite for the Republican gubernatorial nomination after leading most polls and securing a last-minute endorsement from Trump, who is set to hold a tele-town hall for her Monday night.

But the Norton Shores Republican faces stiff competition in the race to take on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who is unopposed in the Democratic primary, in the Nov. 8 general election. 

Businessman Kevin Rinke of Bloomfield Hills is spending millions of his own dollars on attack ads criticizing Dixon as the "establishment" candidate because she's also backed by the DeVos family of west Michigan.Chiropractor Garrett Soldano of Mattawan and Ryan Kelley of Allendale Township made their mark protesting Whitmer pandemic orders and built passionate followings in the process. 

Will Michigan lose Black representation?

Michigan's newly drawn legislative and congressional districts could be more competitive for Democrats this fall — but the maps may also make it harder for Black candidates to win, an awkward dynamic for a party that champions racial justice.

The state's new independent redistricting commission ended years of gerrymandering that favored Republicans. But in the process, the commission cut the number of majority-minority districts from 17 — two in Congress, five in the Michigan Senate, and 10 in the Michigan House — to five.

That reality is perhaps nowhere more apparent than in the new 8th state Senate district, where Michigan Legislative Black Caucus Chair Marshall Bullock finds himself in a difficult primary against fellow incumbent Mallory McMorrow, who skyrocketed to national fame this year after speaking out against a GOP colleague who called her a "groomer."

Will the Michigan Legislature go full-MAGA?

Speaking of Trump, he’s endorsed several legislative candidates in a MAGA mission to reshape the Michigan Legislature, where GOP leaders infuriated him in 2020 by refusing his not-so-subtle overtures to overturn Biden’s win.

All told, Trump has endorsed eight candidates for the Michigan House and two for the state Senate, including primary challenges to three GOP incumbents:  Sen. Lana Theis of Brighton, Sen. Kim LaSata of Niles and Rep. Greg VanWoerkom of Norton Shores. 

Palace intrigue abounds: The DeVos family of west Michigan is supporting Republicans not backed by Trump in eight of those ten races, to the chagrin of Michigan GOP Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock. She helped secure many of the Trump endorsements, and her husband, Rep. Matt Maddock, is banking on their success in his bid to be the next GOP leader of the Michigan House.

Will absentee ballots slow results?

Mail-in ballots remain popular with Michigan voters despite criticism from Trump and other Republicans. As of July 25, more than 589,000 Michigan voters had returned absentee ballots, according to Secretary of State data. That’s up from the same point in 373,351 in 2018, which was the last year voters could only request absentee ballots with a valid excuse. 

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, is again warning that absentee ballots could slow results — and create a window for misinformation — because they take longer to count than in-person ballots. Election workers must remove the absentee ballots from outer envelopes and secrecy sleeves before feeding them through tabulators, for instance. 

Conspiracy theorists could “wrongly claim that the time it takes to finish counting absentee ballots is evidence of malfeasance rather than simply acknowledging the truth: that counting often continues long after polls closed because the Michigan Legislature has not provided election clerks time before Election Day to pre-process absentee ballots,” Benson said Monday.


Can Peter Meijer survive?

Republican U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer had barely taken office when he made the most controversial act of his term, voting to impeach former President Donald Trump whose supporters had stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. 

Now, the west Michigan Republican is battling Trump-endorsed challenger John Gibbs in a closely-watched GOP primary. Whoever wins has to compete in a 3rd Congressional district that is increasingly Democratic.

Democrats backing second-time candidate Hillary Scholten have gone so far as to drop “attack ads” against Gibbs that are not what they appear: They’re actually part of a national effort to boost the chances of pro-Trump challengers like Gibbs who they believe could be easier to beat in the general election.

Which Oakland County Democrat will remain standing?

Congressional redistricting  created one of Michigan's most closely watched Democratic primaries between incumbent U.S. Reps. Haley Stevens of Waterford Township and Andy Levin of Bloomfield Township. 

While the colleagues-turned-rivals agree on many policy fronts, competing attack ads have made for a combative race in the new 11th, which stretches across much of southeastern Oakland County and leans Democratic. 

Levin got a boost Friday, when Sen. Bernie Sanders came to Michigan to stump for him. But Stevens has out-raised Levin and boasts support from the likes of Hillary Clinton and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, who has represented much of the area and is retiring at the end of this year.

Stagnant population from 2010 to 2020 prompted Michigan’s representation in Congress to decline from 14 to 13 this year.

Will challengers disrupt elections?

The Michigan Republican Party, as part of an "election integrity" initiative spurred by 2020 claims, has spent months recruiting and training election inspectors to work on Election Day in "priority areas" like Detroit, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids. 

The state party also expanded efforts to recruit and train poll challengers for precincts across the state. Marian Sheridan, a Michigan GOP vice chair, has recruited Republicans to monitor absentee ballot drop boxes, review dropbox footage from Detroit and interview local clerks about their election processes. 

Detroit officials wary of the chaos that marked the 2020 election say security will be "beefed up 100 percent" at Detroit's absentee counting board. 

Benson said the state will “not tolerate any attempts to disrupt our elections, any voter suppression or election interference attempts in Michigan.” 

The Secretary of State has “worked with election clerks and law enforcement all across the state to ensure they know how to address such behavior and if necessary, remove and arrest bad actors,” Benson said Monday. 

Will COVID produce new leaders?

Activists who railed against pandemic, school and business policies in 2020 are now running for office across the state in 2022, a dynamic that could be particularly visible in local primaries. 

In deep red west Michigan, for instance, a new group called Ottawa Impact is orchestrating a vigorous campaign to try to replace nine of 11 Ottawa County commissioners they do not feel are conservative enough. 

Unlike the Republicans they are opposing, most Ottawa Impact candidates have never worked in the public sector and are running on drastically different campaign promises that tout “liberty” and “freedom.”

Find a sample copy of your local ballot here to review all local races. 

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