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Republican candidates in knock-down fight for governor

Brian Calley and Bill Schuette
Brian Calley and Bill Schuette are the front-runners of the Republican primary race.

The Republican candidates for governor have been battling it out for months. There’s more money being spent on the Republican primary than in recent years – and it’s being used to help the candidates go after each other.

The race has become something of a dogfight between two candidates in particular: Attorney General Bill Schuette and Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley. The candidates, and outside groups supporting them, have focused a lot of resources on attack ads.

“And likely that’s because, you know you have two people that are more known quantities in a lieutenant governor and attorney general running for higher office,” said Craig Mauger of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network. He says there are PACs, Super PACs, and non-profits already trying to influence the primary results – on top of what the candidates are spending. Mauger says there are at least five outside groups spending money on this race – in the past it was maybe one or two before the primary.

“We’re really seeing a campaign that is indicative of what money in politics looks like in 2018,” Mauger said.

Some would say Schuette has been running for governor for decades. That political commitment has paid off. Bill Ballenger of The Ballenger Report is a political pundit and former Republican lawmaker. He said as far as frontrunners go, it’s Schuette.

“I would say it’s been pretty much on a plateau for about six months,” Ballenger said. “Nothing has really changed. All the polls have shown Bill Schuette ahead by a substantial margin.”

"We're really seeing a campaign that is indicative of what money in politics looks like in 2018."

But Schuette has faced some challenges recently. The Ingham County Prosecutor forwarded a complaint of alleged misconduct by Schuette to the FBI. The issue involves Schuette’s use of his office, hiring practices, and some property in the Virgin Islands.

Ballenger said he doesn’t think this will greatly impact Schuette’s chances of winning.

“Whether it’s disqualifying, whether the voters ought to get up in arms saying, ‘this is the most outrageous thing we’ve ever heard of’ – I can’t see it going there,” he said. “But, you never know.”

Ballenger said there’s only one Republican who has a chance of catching up to Schuette.

“Calley seems to be the only one obviously in a position to ever be able to catch Bill Schuette,” Ballenger said. “But, Brian Calley himself has not run an inspiring campaign.”

Ballenger and Mauger said fellow candidates in the race, Patrick Colbeck and Jim Hines, haven’t been able to gather the same amount of money and support.

Hines is a doctor from Saginaw. Ballenger refers to him as a lighter version of Calley and Schuette. He takes the standard party line on most issues. But Hines’s main approach throughout the campaign has been to position himself as the guy who hasn’t been in politics.

The fourth man in the race – Colbeck – also sees himself as an outsider. Colbeck is a former aerospace engineer who has been a state Senator since 2011. During his time in office, Colbeck has been a firebrand conservative.

Most recently, he has joined other conservatives to try to rewrite the state’s social studies criteria. Their ideal criteria would in some cases get rid of mentions of climate change and Roe v. Wade.

Colbeck has mainly utilized a grassroots strategy for his campaign, while Hines is partially self-funded. But according to Ballenger, neither method has brought them up to the level of Schuette and Calley – who will continue to battle it out until August 7.

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County. Eventually, Cheyna took her investigative and interview skills and moved on to journalism. She got her masters at Michigan State University and was a documentary filmmaker, podcaster, and freelance writer before finding her home with NPR. Very soon after joining MPRN, Cheyna started covering the 2016 presidential election, chasing after Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and all their surrogates as they duked it out for Michigan. Cheyna also focuses on the Legislature and criminal justice issues for MPRN. Cheyna is obsessively curious, a passionate storyteller, and an occasional backpacker. Follow her on Twitter at @Cheyna_R
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