MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. — When politicos and political activists descend upon the state's historic Mackinac Island this weekend, they will be part of a record-setting crowd attending the Michigan Republican Party's biennial leadership conference.
Organizers say roughly 2,200 people have registered for the island event—the most ever in the 62 year history of the conference—including six GOP presidential hopefuls fresh off Wednesday night's debate stage in California. The rundown includes former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.
Current frontrunner Donald Trump will not attend.
Ronna Romney McDaniel, chairwoman of the state Republican Party and niece of former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, said all 17 candidates were invited, now 16 candidatess, since Texas Gov. Perry suspended his campaign. Romney McDaniel said she even hand-delivered several of the invites to the candidates during their recent stops in the state.
"From Donald Trump to Dr. Carson and many, many others," she said. "Every time they come, we roll out the red carpet." She said candidates who are not attending had scheduling conflicts; their absence was not due to lack of interest.
With Michigan’s primary set for March 8—one week after Super Tuesday—the weekend in Mackinac will offer an opportunity for candidates to speak to and hear directly from voters in a state that hasn't secured a Republican win in a presidential election since the late 1980s, Romney McDaniel said.
"To see our field coming to Michigan over and over again and spending time with the voters shows an investment in wanting to know what people want from our state," she said. "In contrast, the Democrat Hillary Clinton has been here one time in eight months, and it was only for a fundraiser. We're going to earn the vote, and we're going to work hard and hopefully turn Michigan red for 2016."
On March 8, Michigan will have 59 GOP delegates up for the taking.
Aside from presidential politics, the conference will also provide opportunities for state level GOP leaders to trumpet their own successes while statewide and national media watch, Romney McDaniel said. "We want to highlight Michigan, our comeback, the leadership that has taken place in this state to turn it around."
Gov. Rick Snyder and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley will also be attending along with several members of Michigan's congressional delegation, including congressmen Justin Amash, Bill Huizenga, Fred Upton, and Tim Walberg.
Meanwhile, Jeb Bush is scheduled to give the keynote speech Friday evening. Walker will address the crowd during breakfast Saturday morning while Cruz and Kasich will speak in the afternoon, followed by Paul and Fiorina closing the night out with speeches Saturday evening.
Complete schedule here.
FOX 17's coverage from Mackinac Island will continue online and on air beginning Friday on FOX 17 News at 4.