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Republican candidates for Michigan governor hold their first debate

Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

At their first debate of the campaign season Thursday night, eight Republican candidates for Michigan governor said they will support tightening abortion restrictions if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the Roe v. Wade decision.

A leaked draft opinion shows the court is poised to strike down the case that established the right to abortion in the country.

Candidate, real estate broker, and right-wing organizer Ryan Kelley urged his fellow Republicans not to shy away from being pro-life.

“If Republicans don’t get it together and become unapologetically about being pro-life, we are going to continue to loss out,” Kelley told the packed dining hall at the Crystal Gardens Event and Banquet Center in Howell.

While the GOP gubernatorial candidates largely agreed on abortion, there were differences on state funding of Michigan’s 15 public universities.

“We need to fund our students, not the universities,” Farmington Hills Pastor Ralph Rebandt said. “They have huge endowments. They don’t need any more money in our state budget.”

But that drew a sharp response from Michael Markey, a business owner and radio personality, “Education is one of the best investments we can make in anybody.”

Businessman Kevin Rinke said answering the question required a review of more information, though he added, “there is significant money that should be cut.”

There was one issue that provoked notable disagreement among the candidates.

Asked if Donald Trump won the election in 2020, candidate, chiropractor, and activist Garrett Soldano said yes.

“President Trump is still my president,” Soldano said, which drew cheers from the packed audience.

But there was some push back from other candidates. For example, candidate and businessman Perry Johnson said it’s hard to know.

“Honestly guys, how would you in the million years, without the data, know the exact voter count,” said Johnson. He reminded the crowd, “I am not a Democrat,” when his remark drew some pushback from the audience.

Donald Trump lost Michigan by more than 150,000 votes in the 2020 election and lost the electoral college by 74 votes.

When the candidates were asked who their favorite president was, only three of the eight picked Trump. The others split their votes between Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan.

Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig was one of two Republican gubernatorial candidates who skipped Thursday night’s debate.

Craig said he had a scheduling conflict.

But his fellow candidates, including conservative media personality Tudor Dixon, suggested Craig had other reasons.

“I would have liked to hear his answers, what his plan is for the state. Maybe his plan is not to lead the state. I’m not sure,” Dixon said after the debate.

Other candidate suggested Craig’s days on the campaign trail may be ending.

Craig’s campaign has faced several issues in recent months, including a challenge to signatures on his nominating petition.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.