By DAVID EGGERT – Associated Press
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Republican gubernatorial candidates in Michigan gathered in their first debate Thursday night, all staunchly opposed to abortion before the landmark Roe v. Wade from being potentially overturned while disagreeing over the exceptions and whether former President Donald Trump won the 2020 state. election.
Trump, who lost to Joe Biden by 154,000 votes and pushed false allegations of mass fraud, has yet to endorse a candidate in the August GOP primary.
Four of the eight contestants on stage — former conservative host Tudor Dixon, real estate broker Ryan Kelley, pastor Ralph Rebandt and chiropractor Garrett Soldano — falsely said Trump was wearing Michigan. Two, State Police Captain Michael Brown and financial adviser Michael Markey, said no. Perry Johnson and Kevin Rinke, businessmen who have spent millions of their own campaign money, said neither. Rinke declined to answer, while Johnson said he needed to see more data.
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The candidates also disagreed on abortion, which, if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe, would be almost completely outlawed under a 1931 state law that remains in effect. It would allow an exception, to protect the life of the pregnant woman.
Dixon, Johnson, Kelley, Rebandt, and Johnson opposed the rape and incest exceptions. Brown, Markey and Rinke supported them.
Two candidates in the crowded field of political newcomers, top contender James Craig and Donna Brandenburg, did not attend the event which lacked fireworks and drew widespread criticism of Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The hour-and-45-minute Howell debate was organized and hosted by the Livingston County Republican Party and Lansing-based news outlet MIRS, drawing 700 people who paid $75 each as part of a fundraising dinner of funds. Craig’s absence drew a shot from Soldano, who asked if he could answer a question for him.
Craig had previously spoken at the annual meeting of the Mechanical Contractors Association, according to his campaign.
“The leader looks forward to upcoming debates and opportunities to share his message with voters,” the campaign said.
MIRS and the Livingston County GOP said Craig, the former Detroit police chief, engaged in the debate before stepping down.
“I guess he always runs from the touchline. (He) doesn’t lead from the front,” Soldano said.
Most candidates said the COVID-19 vaccine helped the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions avoid death, although Kelley and Rebandt said it did not help fight the coronavirus . Brown said he didn’t know.
Some supported repeal of Michigan’s personal income tax. Others have supported deep cuts in public funding for public universities. Many have called for Whitmer to face a criminal investigation for the nursing home orders she issued at the start of the pandemic and criticized her for closing schools. All said they would sign legislation banning the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, backing a Florida measure that opponents have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay”.
Another debate, sanctioned by the Republican Party of Michigan, is scheduled for June 2 at the Detroit Regional House policy conference on Mackinac Island.
The winner of the Aug. 2 primary will advance to challenge Whitmer in November.
Three of the GOP’s top candidates, including Craig, face challenges to their petition signatures that, if successful, could prevent them from voting.
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