Detroit Police Chief James Craig, a Republican and a veteran of police departments around the country, is preparing to challenge Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan, potentially giving the GOP a formidable candidate in one of the midterm election’s highest profile gubernatorial contests.
Craig has spent recent days meeting with GOP leaders, including Ron Weiser, the chair of the Michigan Republican Party, according to a person familiar with the deliberations.
Word of Craig’s interest comes as the country grapples issues of race and policing following a year that saw high-profile killings of Black people at the hands of law enforcement. The May 2020 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis resulted in a national wave of protests and a renewed focus on police conduct.
Craig, who is Black, recently praised the outcome of the Derek Chauvin trial in that case, saying, “the justice system worked.” But he said the case “was a stain on our profession” and said it was not “reflective” of law enforcement as a whole.
While Craig, a Detroit native who has been police chief since 2013, has said that police officers should be held “accountable for violating their oath and breaking the law,” he has also been an outspoken defender of law enforcement. He sharply criticized Detroit-area Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib after she tweeted in April that “policing in our country is inherently & intentionally racist,” and there should be “no more policing.”
Craig called for Tlaib’s resignation in response, saying during an appearance on CNN that her comments were “reckless and disgusting.”
Fox 2 in Detroit reported Friday evening that Craig is preparing to retire from the department and is considering a political campaign.
The police chief has long cut a conservative profile. Craig has said that more Detroiters should be armed in order to drive down crime, and he has said that terrorists are less likely to attack Detroit because a substantial number of its residents have concealed carry permits.
Whitmer has emerged as a top Republican target in 2022, drawing fierce criticism from conservatives over her coronavirus lockdown policies. She has also faced blowback for not adhering to the stringent restrictions she’s put in place, including the revelation of her recent travel to Florida to visit her elderly father.
A February EPIC-MRA poll found Whitmer’s approval rating at 52 percent, down from 56 percent in September.
Republicans have been seeking out a viable challenger to Whitmer. Tudor Dixon, a conservative TV news anchor, is prepping a campaign, and Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel floated a possible run at a recent meeting with party officials.
Senior Republicans contend that Craig would make a strong candidate because he could potentially win support in vote-rich Wayne County, which includes Detroit and which regularly gives Democratic candidates large margins of victory. Whitmer received more than 70 percent of the vote in 2018 in Wayne County, which is 39 percent Black.
John James, a Black veteran, was the Michigan GOP’s Senate nominee in each of the past two elections but fell short both times, running about the same as Republican ticket-mates in Wayne County in 2018 and 2020.
But Craig will start his first campaign with a higher public profile in Detroit. Before he was named police chief there in 2013, he had served as chief of the Cincinnati and Portland, Maine police departments, according to his official biography. He also served decades as a police officer in Los Angeles.