Michigan Primary Election Primer: Who Will Take on Whitmer?

Redistricting and the GOP split have left questions looming over August’s biggest races
Michigan’s newly drawn Chestnut Congressional Districts (in red) were devised by a nonpartisan commission. // Image courtesy of Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission

The decennial redistricting for Congress and the Michigan House and Senate is always a major event, but after a nonpartisan commission spectacularly scrambled the maps traditionally drawn by politicians — and with Michigan’s Republican Party splitting between Donald J. Trump loyalists and those distancing themselves from the former president — Michigan’s political future may be harder to predict than ever.

The upended political landscape has raised some new burning political questions that voters will answer by nightfall (hopefully) on Aug. 2. While it’s tough to predict outcomes, here’s a guide to the Michigan primary election.

Which Republican will take on Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer?

Kevin Rinke
Kevin Rinke // Photograph courtesy of Kevin Rinke

In a crowded field, much of the state’s GOP establishment has long favored former Detroit Police Chief James Craig, who received maximum contributions from the last two Republican governors and is seen as the one candidate likely to make a dent in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s overwhelming Detroit advantage — if he can run. He was booted from the ballot, along with businessman Perry Johnson, after fraudulent nomination signatures left their petitions short of requirements. Both have filed lawsuits, hoping to make the primaries anyway. Johnson, who is blanketing the airwaves with ads aligning himself with Trump, swayed U.S. Rep. Jack Bergman’s support away from Craig in April. This suggests Johnson’s efforts are paying off in the polls, and perhaps a shift is afoot. Another factor could be millionaire candidates Kevin Rinke and Garrett Soldano. Both are spending big out of their own pockets in hopes of buying name recognition. The wild card is who, if anyone, Trump endorses. He made complimentary remarks earlier this year about Muskegon businesswoman Tudor Dixon, who seems the perfect fit — a young, attractive nonpolitician with whom he is evidently already acquainted. The field is overwhelmed by Trumpists either way; four of the five remaining candidates adhere to the falsehood that widespread fraud turned the state to President Joe Biden, and Rinke says he needs more information. It’s possible Trump sits out the Michigan governor’s race, but given that Whitmer was one of his top Democratic targets during COVID and a Biden veep short-lister? Probably not.

Will a Black congressperson represent Detroit?

Michigan Primary Election- Senator Adam Hollier
Senator Adam Hollier // Photograph courtesy of Senator Adam Hollier

The city has had at least one Black representative in D.C. since 1954, when Charles Diggs Jr. was first elected. But with the retirement of Rep. Brenda Lawrence and new district maps drawing pieces of the city into swaths of suburbs, thereby diluting Black voting power, it’s possible the Blackest city in America won’t have one of their own in Congress in 2023. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who has represented John Conyers’ former district since 2019 after he left office amid scandal, seems in good shape to stay in office now that her new district, MI-12, is a bit less of Detroit and much more of the heavily Arab American suburbs. The other Detroit district, the new MI-13, includes the heart of Motown but stretches south to Southgate, west to Romulus, and northeast to Grosse Pointe. The most notable candidates there are state Rep. Shri Thanedar, an Indian American man who won the city of Detroit when he lost a three-way Democratic primary for governor in 2018 and is spending millions of his own money again, and state Sen. Adam Hollier, who is Black and making the importance of having a Black representative from Detroit in the House a key piece of his campaign. 

 Can Haley Stevens end the Levin dynasty?

Michigan Primary Election - Congresswoman Haley Stevens
Congresswoman Haley Stevens // Photograph courtesy of Congresswoman Haley Stevens

Photo Courtesy of Congresswoman Haley Stevens Headshot

The state’s loss of a House seat due to population decline created several awkward situations, but none so much as pitting Stevens and Rep. Andy Levin against each other in a primary for their political lives in the newly drawn MI-11 in Oakland County. Levin, the son of former Rep. Sander Levin and nephew of the late Sen. Carl Levin, is a scion of what is believed to be the only Jewish dynasty in national politics and is considered more progressive than the moderate Stevens. He’s also irked many national Democrats by refusing to run instead in the new MI-10, a competitive neighboring district that stretches from Rochester Hills to St. Clair Shores, where Republican John James has lost two bids for a Senate seat and now appears to have an easy path to Congress. Instead, Levin and Stevens are forcing voters to pick between them in a safe Democratic seat.

How will the two other incumbent-on-incumbent races shake out?

Michigan Primary Election - Senator Mallory McMorrow
Senator Mallory McMorrow // Photograph courtesy of Senator Mallory McMorrow

The Levin-Stevens race is the highest-profile because it’s for Congress, but new maps also have pitted state Sen. Mallory McMorrow against state Sen. Marshall Bullock and state Rep. Cynthia Johnson against state Rep. Tyrone Carter. All are Democrats. The McMorrow-Bullock race is fraught; McMorrow has received national attention and a flood of campaign contributions following an impassioned speech that went viral in April attacking a Republican colleague who implied she supported pedophiles. But a Bullock loss would mean there would be no Black members of the state Senate from Detroit.





This story is from the July 2022 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more stories in our digital edition