Updated: Dixon clinches early win in GOP gubernatorial primary, Kelley refuses to concede

By: - August 3, 2022 9:03 am

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon attends a Republican gubernatorial in Howell on May 13, 2022. (Andrew Roth | Michigan Advance)

Originally published, 9:03 p.m., 8/2/22. Updated, 10:57 p.m. 8/2/22 and 9:55 a.m. 8/3/22 with additional comments

Right-wing commentator Tudor Dixon has won Michigan’s GOP gubernatorial primary, according to unofficial returns, setting her up to challenge Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in the Nov. 8 general election.

Dixon’s primary win comes after a last-minute endorsement from former President Donald Trump on Friday amid a campaign season rife with Trumpian talking points and right-wing rhetoric.

“God is good. Thank you, Michigan,” Dixon told a Grand Rapids audience of supporters around 10 p.m. 

As of Wednesday morning with 95% of precincts reporting, according to unofficial returns, Dixon has amassed around 39.8% of the vote.

She won 80 out of Michigan’s 83 counties. Rinke won Luce County in the Upper Peninsula, as well as Crawford and Roscommon counties. In 2018, Whitmer won all 83 counties, defeating Shri Thanedar and Abdul El-Sayed. She was unopposed on Tuesday.

Around 10 p.m. Tuesday with less than a quarter of the precincts reporting, Dixon took a clear lead with 40.9% of the vote. The Michigan Republican Party already declared her the winner, writing on Twitter at 9:08 p.m. that she was “our candidate for governor” — which Dixon later retweeted.

Some analysts had called the race for Dixon before polls closed at 9 p.m. in four western Upper Peninsula precincts.

The Associated Press called the race for Dixon at 9:41 p.m.

Kevin Rinke participates in a GOP gubernatorial debate on WKAR’s Off the Record, July 15, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins

Trailing behind Dixon are businessman Kevin Rinke with 21.7%, chiropractor Garrett Soldano with 18.5%, far-right activist Ryan Kelley with 15.7% and the Rev. Ralph Rebandt with 4.1%.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Michigan GOP abruptly canceled a watch party at a Lansing restaurant due to what spokesperson Gustavo Potela said were multiple threats to its building and staff.

Portela, who said that a bystander near the GOP party headquarters in Lansing threatened to shoot and burn the building down Tuesday morning, did not respond to a request for comment from the Advance asking whether the party has filed a police report about the alleged incidents.

Soldano conceded the race around 9:45 p.m. Tuesday, telling supporters at his watch party, “I didn’t win.”

“As I have stated from the beginning, Republicans throughout the state must be focused on retiring Gretchen Whitmer,” Soldano said in a subsequent statement. “I will be casting my vote for Tudor Dixon in November. I call on all Republicans to continue fighting, and together we will defeat Gretchen Whitmer in November.”

Garrett Soldano participates in a GOP gubernatorial debate as part of the Mackinac Island Policy Conference, June 2, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins

Rinke also conceded in a Twitter statement Tuesday night.

“While tonight’s results are not what we had hoped for, the people of Michigan have decided on another candidate, and I want to congratulate @TudorDixon on her victory,” Rinke wrote. “My hope for the state of Michigan remains unchanged and I look forward to continuing our family’s work of bettering the state we love so much.”

But while Rinke and Soldano quickly conceded, Rebandt has yet to update his social media post-election results. And Kelley defiantly posted on Facebook that he is “NOT CONCEDING!”

Baselessly claiming that the Dixon win was the Michigan GOP’s “preferred and predetermined outcome,” Kelley called for a “publicly supervised hand recount.”

Despite this, Soldano released a call-to-action Facebook video Wednesday morning urging his supporters to chip in to help with Kelley’s legal fees.

Kelley is facing several charges related to his participation in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. He has pleaded not guilty.

“We are going to support one of our own,” Soldano said. “…We may not agree on how he did some things, we may not agree on what he said in some other things, but he’s one of us.”

Dixon appeared to address Kelley’s refusal to concede in a Wednesday morning interview on WOOD radio.

“We all said that we would unite. We all committed to that. And we need to make sure that we are doing that,” she said.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ryan Kelley attends a Republican gubernatorial in Howell on May 13, 2022. (Andrew Roth | Michigan Advance)

During her victory speech Tuesday night, Dixon thanked Rinke, Soldano, Kelley and Rebandt for “running a very spirited campaign.” She spent much of her speech railing against Whitmer for everything from COVID-19 health policies to water issues in Benton Harbor.

“This is going to be an epic battle between a conservative businesswoman and mother, and a far-left birthing parent and career politician,” Dixon said.

Whitmer is a mother of two daughters. The “birthing parent” remark was ostensibly meant to be a jab at some on the left, including President Joe Biden, who have started to embrace more gender-neutral terms as a move toward LGBTQ+ inclusivity.

In a statement Tuesday night, Whitmer said Dixon has “made clear that she will drag Michigan backwards.”

“Dixon’s plans to ban abortion with no exceptions for rape, incest, or health of the mother and throw nurses in jail, gut funding for public education, reverse progress rebuilding Michigan’s infrastructure and sow distrust in our democracy are dangerous for Michigan women and families,” Whitmer continued.

Dixon is one of just five GOP gubernatorial candidates to make it onto the Aug. 2 ballot, after the state Bureau of Elections (BOE) kicked off five more gubernatorial hopefuls whose signature collecting campaigns were marred with fraud.

Financial adviser Michael Markey, former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, businesswoman Donna Brandenburg, self-described “quality guru” Perry Johnson and Michigan State Police Capt. Michael Brown did not make it onto the ballot.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at the State of the State address, Jan. 29, 2020 | Andrew Roth

Dixon has been routinely criticized by her fellow GOP contenders for being “establishment,” as she has landed the endorsement and financial backing — to the tune of about $1 million — of the wealthy and politically influential DeVos family.

She also gained endorsements from GOP former Michigan Gov. John Engler, state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), as well as powerful right-wing groups like the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and Right to Life of Michigan.

While other candidates vied for the Trump endorsement, Dixon was the only GOP gubernatorial candidate Trump mentioned by name during an April rally in Michigan. Trump praised her again during a fundraiser for Dixon in February.

All candidates have parroted Trump’s repeated lie that there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election. Most, including Dixon, have falsely claimed that the election was stolen from Trump.

“Tonight we are dismayed to see the GOP celebrate and validate the gubernatorial candidacy of a well-known election denier, who has repeatedly shown she is a danger to our democracy,” said Nancy Wang, executive director of the nonpartisan group Voters Not Politicians.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or spending time with her cats, she loves art and design, listening to music, playing piano, enjoying good food and being out in nature (especially Up North).

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