A major shake up in the race for the governor’s office, half the Republican primary field may be wiped out due to invalid signatures on their petitions.
Or so that is what is expected to happen when the State Board of Canvassers meets to finalize the primary ballots Thursday.
The Board of Elections recommended five candidates, including the two front runners be dropped due to fraud and forgery among their signatures.
“It’s beyond damning. It’s a disaster for the candidates not recommended to be on the ballot,” said John Sellek of Harbor Strategic Public Affairs.
At the filing deadline, Michigan had the largest primary candidate field in state history, 10 people running for the Republican nomination. Each one collected at least 15,000 signed petitions and filed with the state.
Monday the Board of Elections unveiled their review of those signatures and recommended five of them to drop from the ballot, James Craig, Perry Johnson, Michael Brown, Michael Markey and Donna Brandenburg.
“It looks like they depended completely on paying for signatures,” said Sellek, “And this year in Michigan, that turned out to be a very bad thing.”
Over the 10 campaigns, 68,000 signatures were deemed invalid. The fraudulent signatures were collected by 36 separate paid workers. The petitions are full of similar handwriting, fake addresses and names. The Board of Elections were not being shy to call this fraud. The State Department does not believe any campaigns were complicit in the fraud but it was on them to catch it before submitting.
“In the end it’s their name on the form, it’s their name on the ballot, that’s what they wanted it to be,” said Sellek, “They didn’t follow through to make sure they are successfully on the ballot so it falls to the candidate themselves in each instance.”
If the Board of Canvassers agree with the findings Thursday, as they are expected to, the five candidates will drop.
“It essentially is the biggest collapse in gubernatorial primary history,” said Sellek.
Craig had been leading in the polls for a year. Johnson had the biggest war chest. They are going to fight the decision but time is running out. ballots are being mailed in mid-June.
Brown, a former state police captain, is dropping out.
“I had to make that decision,” said Brown.
He had no inkling his campaign was in jeopardy but the Board of Elections threw out any signatures tied to those 36 collectors.
“Unfortunately other people’s fraud affected my campaign,” said Brown, “So I’m disappointed for the citizens and certainly for my volunteers.”
There is a silver lining if the Republicans play it right. There is a massive amount of support now up for grabs and a slimmer field fighting for it.
“(Gov. Gretchen Whitmer) can be beaten and so the GOP can kind of hit the reset button on their primary,” said Sellek, “Get focused on the candidates that are actually on the ballot, start raising money and start making this race about the GOP candidate versus Gretchen Whitmer.