ROCHESTER, Mich. (WOOD) — Five Republicans vying for their party’s candidacy for Michigan governor took the stage Wednesday night for the GOP gubernatorial debate.
With the primary election less than two weeks away, polls have shown the race between candidates Tudor Dixon, Ryan Kelley, Ralph Rebandt, Kevin Rinke and Garrett Soldano is a toss-up. But one candidate on stage, Dixon, was the clear target.
Some of the other candidates accused her of being part of the “establishment” and pointed to the fact that Dick DeVos and his family has endorsed her.
“The fact of the matter is the DeVos family owns you. You’re our version of Gretchen Whitmer. You’ll say anything or do anything to get elected,” Rinke said.
“My definition of the establishment is basically your entire campaign,” Soldano said.
Dixon said the other candidates tried to get DeVos support, saying, “you lied to the Michigan people that you did not go to a meeting to try to get the DeVos support.”
In her closing statement on stage, Dixon said her opponents “have been running silly attack ads against me because they thought it was a popularity contest.”
“They didn’t realize it was about serving you,” she said.
After the debate was over, Dixon said the other candidates were attacking her because they are behind.
“I believe they’re attacking me because they’re behind and because they’re afraid they’re losing this race,” Dixon said.
“It goes to show they don’t really have any good attacks against me,” Dixon added. “Because my plan is good, and I plan to work for the people of the state really hard and serve as a leader.”
During Rebandt’s closing statement, he responded to the attacks on stage.
“What we’ve just observed is what we don’t need in Lansing,” he said. “We need someone who knows how to solve problems.”
“I come from an environment of truth and transparency, and when I come to politics, it’s just the opposite,” he added after the debate.
Soldano accused Dixon of not campaigning hard enough against pandemic lockdowns.
“Where were you in 2020?” Soldano said of Dixon after the debate. “That holds a lot of weight for me and other Michiganders who have been directly affected, not only with their businesses shut down, over 3,000 restaurants shut down permanently, but also the mental health crisis the governor put us in.”
Dixon, who has been a conservative commentator, told Soldano, “you must have missed me out there on the air talking about this.”
Meanwhile, Dixon criticized Gov. Gretchen Whitmer for vetoing funding for pregnancy centers that work to offer alternatives to abortion. In response, Kelley said the candidates should stop talking about what Whitmer has done.
“Obviously, this current governor is done after the November election,” Kelley said.
Kelley, who faces four misdemeanor charges in connection with the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, said he’s being silenced by “woke corporations.”
“I got booted off Airbnb for being in Washington D.C. on Jan. 6,” Kelley said after the debate. “There was no crime committed. These charges, you’re innocent until proven guilty. The woke corporations are canceling me.”
After the debate, Kelley explained his account was deactivated after the FBI arrested him. Kelley used Airbnb as a guest and said he cannot get back on.
Kelley said LinkedIn and Twitter have also banned him from using their platforms.
Earlier in the debate, during a discussion about gun violence, Kelley said it’s a “baseless claim” to call an AR-15 an assault weapon.
“They sit there and they do nothing, unless someone else does something with it. Assault is not an object. Assault is something someone does. You can have an ‘assault podium’ if I were to throw it at somebody,” he said.
Rebandt said he disagrees with the term gun violence, instead opting to call it “people violence.”
With the primary election less than two weeks away, multiple candidates urged former President Donald Trump to not endorse a candidate in this race.
“It’s so far into the race. People are already casting their votes,” Kelley said after the debate.
“Let’s let the voters decide who is the most America First,” Kelley said.
Meanwhile, Dixon said, “I would love to see President Trump come in for me.”
Dixon said she and the former president have talked recently, and she welcomes his endorsement.
“He’s very interested in Michigan,” Dixon said about Trump.
Trump has spoken highly of Dixon in the past.
Kelley and Soldano said they hope Trump would endorse them if he does weigh in.
“I really feel the people just need to choose. We don’t need outside influence,” he said.
But both Kelley and Soldano said they would accept the former president’s endorsement if he does weigh in.
Benton Harbor’s water crisis came up at the beginning of the debate.
“We know Benton Harbor was twice the number of lead flint had,” Rinke said. “And it was ignored by this administration for a period of time.”
Rinke said the problem wasn’t addressed proactively, saying “we have older infrastructures and we need to solve that.”
“I’m not blaming anybody,” he added after the debate. “It’s having the courage and the ability to look at the problem, surround yourself with great people and come up with the solution that can be implemented to the benefit of those people. And that’s what I’m gonna do.”
Rebandt said he wants an “all-out assault” on the issue.
“We seem to be having a pandemic of water issues,” Rebandt said.
On a different issue, the candidates agreed that adopting a child is a challenge in Michigan.
“It’s hard to adopt kids in Michigan,” Kelley said. “We’re going to make that easier.”
Soldano, who said his mother was adopted, wants to put more emphasis on pregnancy crisis centers, reform the adoption and foster care system, and make sure women “who decide to give birth are supported.”
“We have to do everything we can to help these women and these children who go through the foster care and adoption centers,” Soldano said.
Rinke said he was going to adopt a child here and it was “very, very difficult,” prompting him to look to adopt overseas. He said he wants to take a look at regulations that “make it hard for families to adopt children in America.”
“It was faster and a better solution than what Michigan offered,” he said. “We talk about children in America that are sitting in homes and can’t be adopted while we are sending adoptive parents to foreign countries because it is easier, it is more accessible.”
Polls have shown this race to be wide open, with many voters undecided.
“We have to not only heal the state, we have to heal the party,” Rebandt said.
The primary election will take place on Aug. 2. The winner of the GOP primary will face Whitmer in November.