MACKINAC ISLAND, MI — Former President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, and President Joe Biden won it. But with the former president and his allies making unfounded claims of widespread voter fraud, nearly half of the Republicans running to be the next governor of Michigan say they believe fraud reversed the results of the 2020 election.
MLive interviewed all 12 Republicans who have formed candidate committees to run for governor between Sept. 24 and Sept. 27, most in person at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference. One question on the list was whether they believed fraud had reversed the results of the 2020 election.
Five — Articia Bomer, Ryan Kelley, Evan Space, Bob Scott and Ralph Rebandt — said they did believe fraud reversed the results of the 2020 election.
“I think that if there was no voter fraud or anything like that, I think that there might have been a change to the election and that Trump might have won, yes,” Space said.
To date, no legal challenge or legislative inquiry has substantiated claims of widespread fraud in Michigan or nationally. Joe Biden won Michigan by 154,000 votes.
Two candidates — Rebandt and Bomer — cited their experiences at the TCF Center in Detroit as votes were being counted.
None spoke about Trump regaining the current office, saying instead Biden would likely serve out a four-year term.
“I do believe that the 2020 election was a disrespect to our Constitutional Republic. I do believe it was fraudulent. But I don’t believe, there’s nothing that’s going to happen that’s going to put Trump back into office, he would have to run again in 2024,” said Kelley, a real estate agent and local planning commissioner who took part in the Jan. 6 riot in Washington, D.C.
Only one candidate, Michigan State Police Capt. Mike Brown, offered a simple “no” when asked if fraud had reversed the results of the 2020 election.
“No, there’s very, there’s a lot of people concerned nationally about changes in election laws and 2020. That election is done. So, I know there’s people looking into voter fraud in different areas. I support them looking into that to make sure we have a safe and secure election,” he said.
James Craig, the former Detroit Police Chief who is considered a frontrunner in the race, also seemed to answer in the negative, saying he hadn’t seen any investigation that suggested fraud had swayed the election.
“However, I don’t take lightly the concerns of so many in our state, who’ve expressed that there was fraud,” he said, saying he would be open to an audit and supports requiring identification to vote.
Rodericka Applewhaite, senior communications advisor for the Michigan Democratic Party, pointed out on Twitter over the weekend that a “Trump Won” flag visible in some photos from the Mackinac Republican Policy Conference had been blurred out in a photo on the candidate’s Facebook page.
Other gubernatorial candidates MLive asked whether fraud had reversed the results of the election gave answers that landed somewhere in a grey area, saying they didn’t have all the information or talking about election changes without addressing what underpinned those concerns.
“Here’s what I do believe. For starters, I’m a private citizen, okay? and I don’t have access to all of the things that the people that are fighting that fight seem to have access to. But I’ll tell you that there were certainly election integrity problems that need to be addressed to preserve our republic, and, and to preserve the confidence in elections that’s required to preserve our republic,” said Kevin Rinke, a metro Detroit businessman.
Conservative radio host Tudor Dixon said she believed there was fraud, but didn’t say whether she believed that fraud reversed the results of the election.
“I believe that there was voter fraud. We see that there is voter fraud in most elections, but this election was very interesting because the Secretary of State was able to change the rules right before the election and I think it needs to be looked at what happened with absentee ballot applications going to every home,” Dixon said.
“It gave the opportunity for things to happen in this election that we’ve never seen in the past because obviously that’s never been done.”
Related: Read every candidate’s answer to that and other questions here.
The candidates’ answers come as the party is walking a thin line between looking backward at the 2020 election and focusing dead ahead on 2022, where they are hopeful their candidates can retake some of the state’s top offices. Aside from the governor’s race, the Attorney General, Secretary of State and legislature will all be up for election.
Related: Can the Michigan GOP ‘walk and chew gum’? Lingering concerns about 2020 bleed into the next election
A straw poll at the conference sponsored by The Detroit News found that election integrity was the number one issue attendees said was the most important to them, the paper reported.
Kelley said as a candidate for 2022, when he speaks to groups he asks people to raise their hands if, after the 2020 election, people have said they’re not going to vote or know somebody who has. Nearly all the hands go up, he said, and people say they don’t trust their votes will count.
“And my response to that is that look, regardless of what happened in 2020… [the] 2022 election is coming, and it’s gonna go regardless of how we feel about 2020, regardless of whether or not we’ve had a full forensic audit, regardless of anything. 2022 is coming and going and so we need to vote,” Kelley said.
“Every person needs to get out and vote and they need to have a candidate that they are excited to come and vote for.”
More on MLive:
A car enthusiast, a mom of 10, a magician: Meet the 12 Republicans who want to be Michigan’s next governor
Can the Michigan GOP ‘walk and chew gum’? Lingering concerns about 2020 bleed into the next election
Trump endorsement isn’t decisive among Michigan Republicans in Mackinac straw poll
Republican movement not dependent on ‘any one person,’ says Betsy DeVos, without naming Trump
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem to Michigan Republicans: Talk to your liberal friends
Whitmer ‘worst governor’ in the nation, says RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel at Mackinac Republican conference
‘America is in crisis,’ U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz tells Michigan Republicans at Mackinac conference