Michigan’s Signature Forgery Scandal Clears Ways For Capitol Rioter, Right-Wing TV Host

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The lawsuits are flying in Michigan after a long list of candidates, including five Republicans running for governor, failed to make the Aug. 2 primary ballot because they submitted thousands of forged signatures to the state. 

There’s still a chance the disqualified candidates, including former GOP gubernatorial frontrunners James Craig and Perry Johnson, can sue their way to the ballot box. 

But for now, the sudden upheaval in the race to challenge Gov. Grethen Whitmer’s (D) reelection bid has completely reshaped the campaign: One new poll from the firm Target Insyght found that, confronted by the slimmed-down list of Republicans who actually qualified for the ballot, nearly half of Republican voters were still undecided. There are just three weeks until the state is scheduled to send primary ballots to overseas and military voters. 

The Republican numbers for governor are so bad, that race may actually help Democrats take back control of the state legislature, said Ed Sarpolus, the executive director of Target Insyght. Think of it as a “gift Republicans are giving [Democrats], of no candidates at all that people recognize,” he said. 

The gubernatorial candidates who did seem to interest at least a few voters were all over the map: Ryan Kelley (above, right) made his name protesting Whitmer’s COVID-19 public health rules and stormed the Capitol steps on Jan. 6, though he says he didn’t go inside. He was the highest-polling Republican in the new Target Insyght poll, with 19% support. The poll had a 5% margin of error. 

Kevin Rinke, who polled second with 15% support, is a millionaire by way of his family auto dealership group and has pledged to eliminate Michigan’s income tax. 

Tudor Dixon (above, left), who’s been bolstered by Trump’s praise and a DeVos family endorsement, was a minor right-wing TV host before her political career.

Even before the signature scandal blew up the race, Michigan Republicans had an odd field of candidates on their hands, Sarpolus said. Now, that dynamic has only been exaggerated. 

“Everybody’s a newbie that’s running,” he said. “There’s nobody who’s held office of any consequence. These are just everyday people running for governor.” 

Trump-World Figures Look Toward A Right-Wing TV Host

Tudor Dixon, the third new frontrunner, has earned praise from Donald Trump and an endorsement from Michigan’s kingmaking DeVos family — notches in her column that likely reflect Dixon’s past as a host on the right-wing program America’s Voice Live, and as an advocate for private schools, respectively. 

Dixon, as much as anyone, has benefitted from the petition forgery scandal: A super PAC supporting her candidacy filed one of the forgery complaints against former frontrunner James Craig, and Dixon’s DeVos endorsement came hours before state election officials confirmed signature fraud on a massive scale — effectively clearing the way for her and other former b-listers to take the lead. 

A few days after the signature scandal broke, the Detroit Chamber of Commerce added Dixon to the line-up of a high-profile debate this week. On Tuesday, responding to a Newsmax report that she could soon get Trump’s formal endorsement, Dixon said plainly: “Some of our key Republican opponents failed to qualify for the ballot.” 

The Republican, like others in the campaign, has played up the moral panic that’s now focused on banning books: Dixon once said that school staff sharing books deemed sexually explicit are akin to “a predator sharing porn with children at the bus stop.”

Dixon has some strange history, including a role in a gory horror movie, “Buddy Bebop vs. The Living Dead,” the trailer for which described it as “offensive,” “disgusting” and “sexual,” the Detroit News reported.

Two Breached Capitols And A New GOP Contender

For his part, Kelley is an unlikely GOP nominee frontrunner: Our only previous coverage of him at TPM was in our weekly voting rights newsletter, The Franchise, when he told an audience that if they felt something was wrong with an election machine at their local polling place, they should simply “unplug it from the wall.” 

Kelley, notably, invited militia members to a May 2020 rally that, it was later revealed, included a man who was subsequently charged with plotting to kidnap Whitmer. Separately, Kelley compared taking down a statue of a Confederate soldier to “other things that represent our history like the Constitution.” 

Kelley was involved in not one but two Capitol breaches: He was an organizer of a 2020 protest against COVID protocols in Michigan that resulted in the storming of that Capitol building — one of several state-level precursors to Jan. 6. CNN reported at the time that Kelley claimed to have “worked with state police to allow uniformed members of a militia to work security outside.”

A few months later, Kelley not only attended the Capitol riot in Washington, D.C., but also later called it an “energizing event.” 

Still, he has some of the only government experience in the entire GOP gubernatorial field — as a member of the Allendale Township Planning Commission. 

Hilariously, Kelley’s luck in Michigan politics could be helped by his name recognition. No, Michiganders aren’t necessarily thrilled with his political history. But, Sarpolus said, Kelley’s last name itself may be generic enough to provide an edge in an otherwise unremarkable field.

“We’ve had a lot of Kelleys in Michigan,” Sarpolus said. “Kelley’s a common name.”

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