Jun 19, 2021 2 mins, 32 secs
Many Republican leaders and voters targeting her for defeat are fixated on conspiracy theories and the false conviction that ballot audits such as the partisan one happening in Arizona will prove Trump didn’t lose in 2020.

“Do we even know who’s running?” Toni Shuff, 66, and her friends asked one another on the lawn of the Michigan Capitol last week at a rally for Convention of States, a conservative group that seeks to limit the power of the federal government by amending the Constitution without Congress.

Would-be candidates for governor are proceeding with caution as they calculate how far, if at all, they can stray from Trump, his mixed pandemic messaging and his incessant lie that a second term was stolen from him.

“At this point, it’s irrelevant what I personally believe,” Austin Chenge, one of at least six declared but largely unknown GOP candidates for governor, told NBC News when asked if he believes the election was stolen from Trump.

In March, Michigan Republican Party Chairman Ron Weiser called Whitmer and the two other top female leaders in state government “witches” who should be “burning at the stake.” His co-chair, Meshawn Maddock, helped organize buses to Washington, D.C., on Jan.

They also have called for the ouster or censure of the state party’s executive director, who has said Trump “blew” the 2020 election.

“Michigan and national Republicans’ repeated failures to recruit a viable candidate for governor is no accident,” Rodericka Applewhaite, a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, said.

Ronna McDaniel — the former state party chair, granddaughter of former Michigan Gov.

Candice Miller and state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, also have said they’re not interested.

James Craig, who recently retired as Detroit’s police chief to prepare for an expected campaign he hasn’t yet launched, is attracting the most attention and has spoken with Republican Governors Association leaders eager to unseat Whitmer.

A May poll by Michigan’s MIRS News and Target Insyght found her leading Craig by 6 percentage points and James by 10 in hypothetical matchups.

A Michigan Republican Party poll this month placed Craig 7 points ahead of Whitmer and James 5 points behind her.

“I think the filing deadline is about 10 months away,” Curt Anderson, a political adviser to James, said via email last week of the primary dynamics.

Shuff and her friends, who traveled more than two hours from Grayling in northern Michigan for last week’s Convention of States rally at the state Capitol, also expressed doubts about the last election.

Though the friends were unfamiliar with the declared Republican candidates for governor, they had heard of and were intrigued by Craig, the former police chief.

Tudor Dixon is a conservative news host on the same network that features former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who has made adherence to the stolen election lie a litmus test for GOP candidates.

Though he has many of the same gripes about Whitmer and says without evidence that the election was stolen from Trump, he’s milder in how he delivers the message.

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