There was a brief period in the GOP race for Michigan governor when real estate broker Ryan Kelley seemed to be the front-runner.
It happened, improbably, after Kelley was arrested and charged with misdemeanors stemming from his participation in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, and after five candidates — including the two previous front-runners — were denied a spot on the ballot because they submitted fake petition signatures.
Kelley’s surge was short-lived, and mostly a reflection of the field’s chaotic reshuffling following the signature snafu.
On Tuesday night, conservative commentator and business owner Tudor Dixon came away with the GOP nod to face Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in November. Donald Trump’s endorsement last week gave Dixon a push over the finish line in a race where none of the candidates had run away with the nomination.
In a Facebook post Wednesday morning, Kelley wrote he would “not concede” the race to Dixon despite finishing in fourth place, and he questioned whether the election results reported by the state were correct.
Kelley was just one of the Republicans running this cycle with ties to the Capitol riot. He maintained that he didn’t enter the Capitol that day, but investigators placed him directing rioters into the building. Kelley admitted his participation in the preceding “Stop the Steal” rally and claimed his arrest helped boost his name recognition among GOP voters.
Pennsylvania’s Doug Mastriano is another such Republican. Unlike Kelley, the GOP nominee for governor in the Keystone State hasn’t been accused of breaking the law. But the state senator was subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 select committee in March, and Mastriano’s attorney handed over documents about his efforts to organize a pro-Trump bus to D.C.
Other Jan. 6-linked candidates are winning. In Ohio, J.R. Majewski, who participated in the pre-riot rally, secured the GOP nomination to face Rep. Marcy Kaptur, the House’s longest-serving woman, in a new Toledo-based swing district. Sandy Smith, a GOP candidate competing in the general election for a northeastern North Carolina House seat, tweeted about marching to the Capitol.
Michigan is one of the most competitive battlegrounds in this year’s midterms, having chosen both Joe Biden and Trump in the past two presidential elections. The former president has endorsed far down the ballot in an effort to install allies at all levels of government should he decide to run again for president. After the 2020 election, Trump allies attempted to seat an alternate slate of presidential electors in Michigan in an illegal effort to award the state’s electoral votes to Trump.
In the governor’s race, Republicans want to knock out Whitmer, who forged a national profile as a leader during the pandemic and more recently for blocking enforcement of the state’s 1931 total abortion ban after the fall of Roe v. Wade.