LANSING, Mich. — Southeast Michigan businessman Kevin Rinke knows he’s risking a lot by putting $10 million of his own money into his campaign for Michigan governor.
The Republican candidate also refutes criticism that he’s trying to “buy an election,” calling those claims “disingenuous.”
“If you look at this from a business investment, it's not a good investment. Simply put, it's a bad investment,” Rinke told FOX 17 in an interview Tuesday. "I'm not looking for a return on this money. I believe this, that I want to show the people of Michigan I have a message. And I want that message to be heard by as many people as possible. So before I ask any Michigander for a dollar, I'm willing to say, 'I'll pay first,'” says Rinke.
Rinke, who made a fortune on his family's car dealerships, formally announced his campaign this week, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on TV and digital ads.
He says he's made 21 stops across the state, listening to people's concerns about the economy amid the pandemic.
"At the end of the day, a lack of leadership and poor decisions have got us to where we are today and political infighting. And the people don't need more than finger pointing. They need real solutions," says Rinke.
In his first commercial, Rinke drives a classic Pontiac muscle car while comparing incumbent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to a Yugo, a Yugoslavian-made car widely considered one of the worst automobiles ever made.
“Like the terrible socialist system it came from, it’s a pile of junk,” Rinke says in the ad.
“I don't believe that the career politician has shown leadership skills, and leadership skills mean that you have to have your legislature work together to provide results that the governor can oversee. [Whitmer's] management of the state and her decision making, I believe, are disastrous,” Rinke said in our interview.
Rinke also hits on the same issues conservatives nationwide have highlighted: COVID-19 policies, critical race theory, voter fraud and illegal immigration, similar to the 11 other Republicans vying for the GOP nomination in Michigan.
However, he thinks his successful business background separates himself from the field.
"I think it's real business experience and leadership experience," he added.
While he does not believe last year's election was stolen, he would welcome an endorsement from the former president, who continues to push that unfounded claim.
Aaron Parseghian: “It's clear that former President Trump still has a big voice in the Republican party. In the past few weeks, we've seen him endorse state House candidates, continuing to make some unfounded claims that the election was some way stolen from him here in Michigan. How important do you think Trump's endorsement is of a potential candidate like yourself? Do you want it? And do you think the election was stolen?"
Rinke: "Well, I think that any past president has a significant influence on a party. So a candidate running within that party would welcome an endorsement from a past president. Does that mean that everything that President Trump says or does is approved by that candidate? And the answer is, of course not. Kevin Rinke is his own man. In regards to the election, I know what I've been able to gather through normal media outlets. I've read about it. And currently, there is no information that says that the election was stolen. I will say that there are significant irregularities that have been exposed in the past election in Michigan."
Right away, Rinke’s self-funding puts him ahead of the fundraising totals made by the 11 other candidates vying for the GOP nomination, including former Detroit Police Chief James Craig whom many have pointed to as a favorite in the race, Kalamazoo chiropractor Garret Soldano and Norton Shores conservative media personality Tudor Dixon.
The primary takes place in August of next year, the winner of which will face incumbent Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in November. Whitmer's reelection campaign has raised a record-breaking amount of money, more than $17 million so far this cycle.
"The Michigan GOP’s attempt to coronate James Craig as their #1 pick for the GOP nomination has been a massive failure — and now their chaotic primary for governor has an extreme self-funder in the race," says Democratic Governors Association Political Director Marshall Cohen, in response to Rinke entering the race. “While the GOP candidates oppose overwhelmingly popular initiatives in order to appeal to the radical right wing of their party, Governor Whitmer is putting Michigan first. She’s focused on fixing the damn roads and has made the largest increase in school funding in the state’s history — without raising taxes," he added.