GOP push to defeat Whitmer threatened by candidates' baggage

WASHINGTON (AP) — One of Michigan’s leading candidates for the Republican nomination for governor was sued in the 1990s, accused of using racial slurs on black people in the workplace and sexually harassing his employees.

one of his rivals pleaded not guilty in federal court Thursday on misdemeanor charges after authorities said he rallied supporters of Donald Trump to storm the US Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection. Another candidate is a chiropractor and self-help guru who was selling supplements falsely claiming to treat COVID-19.

and even the contender who garnered mainstream support had an “admittedly pathetic” hobby acting in low-budget horror films, one of which featured a zombie biting off a man’s genitals.

In one of the most politically important states in the US, the Republican primaries for governor are shaping up to be a battle whose personal baggage is the least disqualifying. In an election year favorable to Republicans, the spectacle surrounding the Aug. 2 contest could hamper the party’s efforts to defeat Democratic incumbent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in the fall.

“Whitmer can attack every single one of them,” said Bernie Porn, a Lansing-based pollster with more than three decades of state polling experience. “There are skeletons in the closet of most Republican candidates.”

The GOP campaign has been loaded from the start. The two main candidates were started the vote for submitting bogus petition signatures, narrowing the field to five contenders.

There are few reliable polls to suggest that there is a clear favorite among the remaining candidates. But Republicans insist Whitmer remains vulnerable this fall given rising gas and food prices and his close ties to President Joe Biden, whose approval ratings remain low.

The accusations against businessman Kevin Rinke, who ran his family’s suburban Detroit car dealership empire in the 1990s, are particularly graphic.

Four employees sued in 1992 alleging that Rinke repeatedly made vulgar and demeaning sexual comments to both men and women, creating a hostile work environment that was intended to force them to resign.

In an interview with The Associated Press this week, Rinke called the allegations in two separate lawsuits “blatantly false.” He acknowledged making payments to former employees, but said it was less expensive than going to trial over the allegations. as well as the employees agreed to have the cases dismissed.

On one occasion, Rinke is alleged to have said that women “should not be allowed to work in public” because “they are ignorant and stupid,” while referring to a female employee with a vulgar term, a lawsuit says.

Court documents indicate Rinke also referred to his own genitalia as “gold” while threatening to sexually assault a used car manager if he didn’t “do a good job.” If the manager did a “great job,” according to court documents, Rinke would have allowed the man to pleasure him sexually.

Much of Rinke’s behavior was denounced by his personal secretary, who alleged that he asked her about her underwear, called her at home if she didn’t say goodnight, and also called to ask “what young stud” she was with while speculating. about her sex. life. Once, when employees were looking at photos of newborn babies, Rinke commented on how well-endowed one of the babies was, the suit says.

Another lawsuit filed the same year by a black employee alleged that Rinke repeatedly made derogatory racist comments directed at him during a party in December 1991.

At the party, the lawsuit says, Rinke allegedly asked the employee where the car he was driving was stolen. When the clerk responded that he didn’t steal, Rinke is alleged to have said, “You mean you’re not like the rest of them?” while he uses a racial slur. Rinke is accused of using the same racial slur multiple times, including a case in which he repeated a sexual stereotype about the anatomy of black men while encouraging the employee to expose himself to others at the party, according to court documents and the attorney he represented. to the employees.

Rinke told the AP that the experience prepared him to run for public office “because in America you can charge anyone with anything.”

So it wasn’t true. Now it was not true,” she added.

His rivals, however, say the allegations make him ineligible.

“He will never be governor because Gretchen Whitmer will just rack his brains,” said Fred Wszolek, a longtime adviser to the family of former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who runs a super PAC backing Tudor Dixon, another Republican challenger.

As an electoral battleground, Michigan has helped determine the winner of the last two presidential races. Trump and his allies tried to overturn the outcome of his 2020 loss in the state, but were blocked by the courts and a GOP-led state Senate. investigation concluded there was no widespread or systemic fraud.

But Ryan Kelley, a Grand Rapids-area real estate broker, has made voter fraud and the lie that Trump won in 2020 central to his campaign. He was also videotaped in Washington during the January 6 insurrection leading a crowd of Trump supporters up a set of stairs leading to the US Capitol. He used his phone to “film the crowd assaulting and shoving United States Capitol Police officers” and was part of a group that forced police to retreat, the FBI said. He pleaded not guilty during a court appearance on Thursday.

Kelley, who organized armed protests inside the Michigan statehouse in the early days of the pandemic, did not respond to a request for comment made through his campaign. But he and his supporters have questioned the timing of his arrest in June, arguing that he was politically motivated.

The arrest, however, helped Kelley raise his profile, leading to an appearance on conservative pundit Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show.

“I’ve seen the support grow tremendously,” Kelley said.

Garrett Soldano, for his part, used his activism during the pandemic to launch a campaign. Soldano, a Kalamazoo chiropractor, created the Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantine Facebook group, which gained an estimated 380,000 members before the social media company shut it down amid a crackdown on the spread of misinformation and threats.

As a candidate, he has sought to appeal to social conservatives with an ad that denigrates transgender rights and declares his preferred pronouns to be “conservative, patriotic.”

Before his rise to prominence, the former Western Michigan University football player was a firewalking instructor and self-help author of “God’s True Law: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Successful Children.” He also touted the Juice Plus supplement, which falsely claimed he could “tame” any virus, including COVID-19, and had the added benefit of giving him “great bowel movements.”

The Federal Trade Commission issued a letter to the multi-level marketing company that produces the supplement in 2020, warning of false claims by those selling Juice Plus, including Soldano. The company has rejected any claim that Juice Plus was an effective treatment for COVID-19.

In a statement that did not address her biography, Soldano’s campaign said she hopes to challenge “Queen Gretchen Whitmer.”

Tudor Dixon, co-host of a conservative online news show, is the only woman running for the Republican nomination. She has garnered considerable support from the Republican establishment, including endorsements from the wealthy DeVos family, as well as from the anti-abortion group Michigan Right to Life.

Like Soldano, Dixon has also focused on the role she says parents should play in deciding the educational curriculum, suggesting that schools have become a hotbed of government-sponsored perversion. In social media posts, Dixon has called for school administrators to be prosecuted if children are found to have been provided “access to sexually explicit” and “pornographic books in our schools.”

But just over a decade ago, Dixon worked as an actress in low-budget horror productions that have been criticized for being at odds with her current emphasis on family values.

She had a small role in the 2011 zombie film Buddy BeBop Vs. the Living Dead in which she is eaten alive by zombies. The movie, which was shot in the Kalamazoo area and is still available on Amazon Prime, features a scene where a zombie consumes the abdomen of a pregnant woman. In another, a zombie bites off a man’s genitals as he screams.

He also had a leading role in an online TV show called Transitions, which is about vampires and was made by the same director. The show has been removed from public view online. But a clip shared with the AP shows a woman beginning to undress for a vampire before Dixon’s character, a British vampire named Claire, emerges from a bathroom with a sword and slashes the woman’s throat.

James Blair, a strategist for Dixon, downplayed her performance, explaining that “not-so-entertaining entertainment” was made for adults, not children.

“Tudor’s admittedly unconvincing penchant for acting for more than a decade is not out of step with his mission to forge a family-friendly Michigan,” Blair said.

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Report for America/Associated Press reporter Joey Cappelletti contributed from Grand Rapids.

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