GOP gubernatorial candidate Ryan Kelley describes arrest by FBI
Ryan Kelley, who spoke to the Free Press before addressing a small Capitol rally Wednesday, said his arrest appears to have helped his name recognition and his campaign.
Paul Egan, Detroit Free Press
Republican gubernatorial candidate Ryan Kelley’s recent arrest by the FBI for his suspected involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol appears to have boosted his name recognition and favorability among GOP voters in Michigan, new polling conducted in the days following his arrest indicates.
Kelley was arrested June 9. In a June 10-13 poll conducted for the Detroit Free Press and our outstate polling partners by EPIC-MRA of Lansing, 17% named Kelley as their preferred candidate for the August primary to determine which Republican candidate challenges Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in November.
Other Republicans vying for the party’s nomination garnered varying enthusiasm — 13% of respondents picked Kalamazoo-area chiropractor Garrett Soldano as their preferred candidate, 12% named Bloomfield Hills businessman Kevin Rinke, 5% touted Norton Shores businesswoman Tudor Dixon and 1% selected Farmington Hills pastor Ralph Rebandt.
A sizable chunk of Republican voters surveyed, 45%, remained undecided. An additional 7% say they’re supporting a write-in candidate during the primary — former Detroit Police Chief James Craig has filed to run a write-in campaign after being disqualified from the primary ballot.
“At 45% still undecided, that means that the race is still wide open,” said EPIC-MRA pollster Bernie Porn. “You’ve got three candidates that are very competitive, certainly within the margin of error.”
Kelley also had the highest total favorability and name recognition among Republican gubernatorial contenders; 39% of respondents said they viewed the Ottawa County real estate agent favorably.
The poll was conducted from June 10 to June 13 over the phone, with a sample size of 400 respondents. Questions were asked by live interviewers, and 60% of surveys were conducted by cell phone. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
The poll is the first to be publicly released since Kelley’s arre.The GOP field has significantly narrowed in recent weeks, going from 10 candidates to five. Craig, Oakland County businessman Perry Johnson and three others failed to qualify for the primary ballot after an unprecedented amount of signatures submitted by the candidates were determined to be invalid.
Kelley’s FBI arrest sparks support from some likely voters
Kelley was arrested at his Allendale home June 9 and charged with a series of misdemeanors for being at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, when supporters of former President Donald Trump attempted to storm the building and overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Specifically, Kelley is charged with entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds without lawful authority, disorderly and disruptive conduct, knowingly engaging in an act of physical violence against a person or property, and willfully injuring property, according to a criminal complaint.
Kelley has acknowledged being at the Capitol that day but denies committing any crimes. Footage gathered shows Kelley climbing the Capitol steps as others try to tear down barricades and enter the building, according to the FBI statement of facts attached to Kelley’s criminal complaint.
And as polling indicates, the arrest has helped Kelley drum up name recognition and favorability from some voters, Porn said.
“I can’t see how it didn’t have an impact,” said Porn, of EPIC-MRA. “At 23% non-recognition, he is in much better recognition shape than anybody else. His favorability numbers are much, much higher at 39 (%).”
Kelley has pointed to the arrest as a boon for his campaign, claiming it separates him from the rest of the pack.
“I know that our supporters are becoming activated all around the state,” Kelley told the Free Press Wednesday. “We’ve seen (a) tremendous amount of support from people in regard to reaching out and sharing their thoughts and their prayers.
“It’s been very humbling to see the amount of people that have really been even more engaged than before. (But) Aug. 2, the primary is the only poll that really matters.”
As trust in traditional institutions like the FBI deteriorates, some Republicans, including Kelley’s fellow gubernatorial candidates, rallied around him in the wake of his arrest.
Jim Flarity, of Lenawee County, said he was already leaning toward supporting Kelley in the primary, but the FBI arrest cemented his decision to vote for Kelley come August.
“The number one reason is he was arrested by the FBI,” Flarity told the Free Press. “I had my own issues with the FBI about the Jan. 6 incident, even though I wasn’t there.” He said he lost access to his Facebook profile due to posts made on the website with which the FBI took issue.
Debunked 2020 election claims still loom large over Republican field
Sixty-one percent of respondents polled said President Joe Biden stole the election from Trump, compared with 22% responding that Biden won the election fair and square, with the rest being undecided.
Questions over the 2020 election have continued to cast a shadow over political campaigns in 2022, as some Republican candidates have repeatedly pushed unfounded claims of voter fraud and other conspiracies casting doubt on the election results. Election officials have consistently debunked many of the claims, and there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud.
Kelley, Soldano, Dixon and Rebandt have all pushed false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. Rinke previously pushed back against the idea the 2020 election contained fraud but has since run TV ads claiming there are dead people voting only for Democrats in elections, also a false claim.
The poll asked respondents if they believed pushing claims that the 2020 election was stolen could hurt or help a candidate in a hypothetical matchup against Whitmer — 26% said it would make them more likely to win the general election, while 18% said it would make them less likely to win.
Forty-four percent of those surveyed said re-litigating the 2020 election would not have an influence on the outcome of the governor race in November.
John Phillips, a Monroe County voter, named Kelley as his preferred candidate, although Phillips does not believe the 2020 election was stolen.
“I’m not someone that believes that the election was stolen,” Phillips said. “The 2020 election was valid. However, I do believe there were some irregularities that probably need to be addressed.”
Questions on cultural issues garner varying results
With the U.S. Supreme Court likely to issue a ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in the coming weeks, the issue of abortion access has become prevalent in the lead-up to the November election.
A leaked draft opinion indicated a majority of the court’s justices are prepared to issue a ruling in Dobbs that would overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case which has given federally protected access to abortion in the U.S.
All five Republican candidates remaining on the gubernatorial primary ballot have taken stances against abortion access.
Sixty-seven percent of poll respondents agree with the decision to overturn Roe, compared with 25% disagreeing.
But heavy restrictions on access to abortion could hamper a Republican candidate’s chances against Whitmer, a majority said — 55% of those surveyed said a candidate endorsing a policy that banned abortion with no exceptions, including in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the pregnant person, would make them less likely to win the general election. A lower margin, 13%, said such a stance would make them more likely to win in November.
Sixty percent of those polled said diversity, equity and inclusion were just code words designed to indoctrinate students to accept concepts like critical race theory and raise questions over sexual identity, compared with 26% of respondents who said teaching students about diversity, equity and inclusion is paramount to preparing students for success as adults.
But a substantial majority — 93% of respondents — said they supported students in Michigan public schools being taught a complete history of the U.S. and Michigan, including age-appropriate material on the history of slavery, the treatment of Native Americans, the civil rights movement, state and federal laws discriminating against racial, ethnic and religious groups, as well as teaching about the country’s founders and historical achievements.
Porn said the results indicate the opposition to teaching students about systemic racism could be based in the wording used for certain issues, not the actual subject matter.
Note: This story has been updated to clarify the poll was the first publicly released since Kelley’s arrest.