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How one state’s GOP gubernatorial primary has gone off the rails


Headed into the 2022 election cycle, Republicans were relatively confident that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer was vulnerable to a strong GOP contender. The Democratic incumbent’s approval rating isn’t bad, but the Wolverine State is highly competitive, and with the prevailing political winds at the GOP’s back, Republicans saw an opportunity.

With this in mind, Michigan’s gubernatorial primary field swelled, with 10 GOP candidates vying for the nomination and the chance to take on Whitmer in the fall.

At least, that is, the party started with 10 candidates.

Two weeks ago, half of the Republican field — including former Detroit police chief James Craig and self-funding businessman Perry Johnson, generally seen as the top two contenders — was disqualified from the primary ballot. The five GOP candidates were found to have submitted candidacy petitions filled with forged signatures.

There was an uncomfortable degree of irony to the circumstances: After all the ridiculous talk in far-right circles about election fraud in key battleground states, several Michigan Republican candidates were kicked off the ballots as part of an election fraud controversy.

Left with limited choices, one poll in Michigan showed Ryan Kelley, a far-right estate agent, becoming the new frontrunner for the GOP nod. Kelley had been seen as a fringe candidate, but with the top contenders removed from contention, it looked like he could actually win the primary.

Yesterday, as NBC News reported, Kelley was arrested and charged with crimes related to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

Federal agents raided Ryan Kelley’s home in Allendale, Michigan, on Thursday morning. NBC News received a tip about the raid, which was confirmed by a law enforcement official. An FBI spokesperson later confirmed that a search warrant was executed at the home where Kelley, 40, was arrested. He faces four charges related to his alleged actions at the Capitol, including disorderly conduct and willfully injuring or attacking U.S. property, according to the criminal complaint.

Or put another way, Michigan’s Republican gubernatorial primary, which was already bizarre, has gone completely off the rails. Of the 10 candidates who were vying for the GOP nomination, more than half have of either been kicked off the ballot for fraud or arrested by the FBI.

That said, Kelley hasn’t withdrawn from the race, and there’s nothing stopping him from moving forward with his campaign. In fact, The Detroit Free Press published a piece this morning making the case that the criminal suspect might actually benefit politically from his arrest.

Facing federal criminal charges is almost never a boost to a candidate’s political campaign. But in the upside-down world of today’s Republican Party and Michigan politics, few standard guidelines apply.

The report quoted a Michigan political strategist with strong GOP ties who said Kelley “could well see his political fortunes improve” because he was arrested.

I’m not sure how much more proof is needed that Republican politics in 2022 has reached an unhealthy stage.

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