WASHINGTON (AP) — A leading candidate for the Republican nomination for governor in Michigan was indicted in the 1990s, accused of using racist remarks in the workplace and sexually harassing his employees.
One of his rivals pleaded not guilty to felony charges in federal court on Thursday after authorities said he had gathered Donald Trump’s supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol during the January 6 uprising. Another candidate is a chiropractor who sold supplements that he falsely claimed treated COVID-19.
And even the contender who has gained mainstream following had an “admittedly lame” hobby acting in low-budget horror movies, including a zombie biting off a man’s genitals.
In one of the most politically sweeping states, the Republican primary for governor is a battle of whose personal baggage is least disqualifying. In an otherwise favorable election year for Republicans, the spectacle surrounding the August 2 contest could hinder the party’s bid to defeat incumbent Democratic leader Gretchen Whitmer in the fall.
“Whitmer can attack them all,” said Bernie Porn, a Lansing pollster. “There are skeletons in the closets of most Republican candidates.”
The GOP campaign has been fraught from the start after the two top candidates were kicked off the ballot for submitting fake petition signatures, narrowing the field.
The allegations made by four employees in two separate lawsuits in 1992 against businessman Kevin Rinke, who ran his family’s suburban Detroit auto dealership empire, are particularly clear-cut.
In an interview with The Associated Press this week, Rinke called the allegations “blatantly false” but acknowledged that he had made payouts to the former employees, which he said was less costly than a lawsuit. Court records show that both Rinke and the employees agreed to the cases being dropped.
Rinke is said 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 using a vulgar term, the lawsuit states.
Court documents state that Rinke also referred to his own genitals as “golden” while threatening to sexually assault a used car manager if he didn’t “do a good job.”
Much of Rinke’s behavior was reported by his personal secretary. She claimed he would inquire about her underwear and call her at home to ask “which young stud” she was with while speculating about her sex life. Once, when employees were reviewing photos of newborn babies, Rinke noted how well-endowed one of the baby boys was, the lawsuit said.
Another lawsuit filed the same year by a black employee alleged that Rinke repeatedly made derogatory racist remarks against him.
Rinke asked the employee where the car he was driving was stolen, the lawsuit says. When the employee replied that he hadn’t stolen, Rinke is said to have said, “You mean you’re not like the rest?” while using a racist slur. Rinke is said to have used the same racist statements multiple times, including a case where he repeated a sexual stereotype about the anatomy of black men, according to court documents.
“It wasn’t true then. It wasn’t true now,” Rinke said of the lawsuits.
As an electoral battleground, Michigan often helps determine the winner of presidential races. That made it a focus for Trump, who tried but failed to pressure GOP state officials to reverse his loss.
Now the former president has an ally looking for the governor’s office. Ryan Kelley, a Grand Rapids-area real estate agent, has made the lie Trump won in 2020 a focus of his campaign. He was also captured on video during the Jan. 6 uprising that led a crowd of Trump supporters to a staircase leading to the U.S. Capitol, forcing police to withdraw, the FBI said. He pleaded innocent in court on Thursday.
Kelley has questioned the timing of his June arrest, arguing it was politically motivated. However, the arrest also had an advantage.
“I’ve seen the support grow tremendously,” Kelley said.
Garrett Soldano used his activism during the pandemic to launch a campaign. Soldano, a Kalamazoo chiropractor, founded the Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantine Facebook group, which gained a wide following before the social media company closed.
As a candidate, he has appealed to social conservatives with an ad that denigrates transgender rights, declaring that his favorite pronouns are “conservative, patriot.”
Before his fame, Soldano was a self-help author who marketed the supplement Juice Plus, which he falsely claimed to be “dominated” viruses, including COVID-19, and also gave him a “great bowel movement.”
The company has denied all claims that Juice Plus was an effective COVID-19 treatment.
Soldano’s campaign said he’s looking forward to challenging “Queen Gretchen Whitmer.”
Tudor Dixon, the co-host of a conservative online news show, is the only woman running for the Republican nomination. She has won mainstream support, including an endorsement from the anti-abortion group Michigan Right to Life.
Dixon has focused on the role parents should play in their children’s education, suggesting that schools have become a hotbed of government-sponsored perversion. She has also called for school administrators to be prosecuted if they allow children access to sexually explicit books.
But just over a decade ago, Dixon was an actor in low-budget horror productions, an activity that has been criticized for running counter to 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 film includes a scene in which a zombie consumes the belly of a pregnant woman. In another, a zombie bites off a man’s genitals.
She also starred in an online TV show about vampires called Transitions. The show has been canceled from the public online. But one clip shows a woman undressing for a male vampire before Dixon’s character emerges from a bathroom with a sword to slit her throat.
James Blair, a strategist for Dixon, downplayed her acting, explaining that it was made for adults — not kids.
“Tudor’s admittedly lame hobby of acting from more than a decade ago is in no way out of step with its mission to forge a family-friendly Michigan,” Blair said.
Report to America/Associated Press reporter Joey Cappelletti contributed from Grand Rapids.