McDaniel? James? Dixon? GOP looks for Whitmer challenger

Gov. Whitmer is facing reelection. Against who? That's still unclear.
Ronna McDaniel
Posted at 11:21 PM, Apr 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-26 00:10:47-04

LANSING, Mich. — The 2022 election is more than a year and a half away, but the attention in Michigan is already turning towards the gubernatorial race. Governor Gretchen Whitmer is running for reelection. Against who? Well, that's still unclear.

Some fringe candidates, namely Austin Chenge, Ryan Kelley and Bob Scott have filed to run, but the absence of an established name thus far has the Michigan Democratic Party going on the early attack.

In a recent statement, the MDP alleges there are no “top tier” Republican candidates launching campaigns because they are scared of running against the governor’s "strong and popular record.”

“We're definitely in the sweet spot for jumping on in right now,” Harbor Strategic Public Affairs CEO John Sellek tells FOX 17. "I'd make an argument, though, that the pandemic has turned a lot of that on its head."

Sellek, a longtime Republican consultant and strategist in Michigan, says not only has the pandemic delayed a legit GOP challenger from surfacing, but it has also become the main point of focus for the 2022 campaign. "The pandemic has made the election at this point pretty much a referendum on Governor Whitmer."

Sellek believes the pandemic has also made Whitmer more vulnerable than a typical sitting governor facing reelection, though a sitting Michigan governor has not lost their first reelection race since the 1960s.

"The governor usually has the upper hand in running for election, but because of the pandemic this crisis that was put on Governor Whitmer not through her choice, it has essentially taken over her governorship in the way that it's overtaken our lives," argues Sellek. "And there's almost no way for her to find a tangible victory element at almost any point."

In an interview with the Washington Post last week, Governor Whitmer said she’s not focusing on her reelection but admitted, “I know that I will have a competitive election next year, even though I don’t know who the opponent will be just yet.”

Some potential names have been thrown around as of late, among them former U.S. Senate candidate John James. James, an Army veteran, is popular in the party and ran strong campaigns but lost back-to-back Senate races and recently established his own political action committee.

7 UpFront: GOP candidate for US Senate, John James, discusses his platform ahead of Election Day
FILE - In this Oct. 17, 2018 file photo, Republican U.S. Senate candidate John James speaks during a rally in Pontiac, Mich. The Combat veteran and businessman of Michigan is running for U.S. Senate again, this time against first-term Democratic Sen. Gary Peters in 2020. James, who ran against Democrat Debbie Stabenow in 2018, announced his candidacy on Thursday, June 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Conservative media personality Tudor Dixon, who resides in West Michigan, has also been mentioned. Dixon has been an outspoken critic of Governor Whitmer and was recently at a rally in support of a Holland restaurant owner who get arrested for defying pandemic health orders.

tudor dixon.jpg
Tudor Dixon at CPAC 2021.

Former Michigan Secretary of State and U.S. Representative and now Oakland County Public Works Commissioner . Candace Miller was also a popular potential pick among Michigan GOPers, but in January she said she would not run.

“[Michigan GOP] need to have a candidate who ideally is an outsider or hasn't been in office long,” Sellek added. "They need the election to be about Governor Whitmer and the choices that Governor Whitmer made and how they turned out."

Both James and Dixon are in the non-office-holding mold the GOP could be looking to fill with their eventual nominee, but an even bigger name is grabbing headlines. Politico reports RNC Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel has floated the idea of leaving her post to challenge Whitmer. Sellek believes she would lead the pack of potential candidates.

McDaniel, who lives in Northville, was the chair of the Michigan GOP before being tapped to lead the national party when former President Donald Trump took office.

“She's a mom from southeastern Michigan, that's where half the voting population in Michigan is,” Sellek explained. "Her kids and her family still live in a school where she can tell that story of living in Michigan under the [Whitmer Administration pandemic] rules, and what they would have done differently."

“She's also got a really outgoing, gregarious personality,” he added. "She's developed an immense amount of political contacts, and that means a lot of fundraising in a way that maybe other Republican candidates here on the ground couldn't do."

McDaniel could be one of a few field-clearing candidates who could hop in the race and lock up an eventual nomination.

“Like [Candace] Miller, like Ronna, like John James, that would definitely occur,” Sellek said “But I think the party is open to considering an outsider or a multitude of activist candidates, and we could see a multi-way primary that is a fight all the way through.”

Meanwhile without a clear opponent, Whitmer's campaign is getting a head start and then some, so far raising a whopping $5.5 million this cycle.