- Associated Press - Thursday, July 7, 2022

A leading contender for the Republican nomination for governor in Michigan was sued in the 1990s, accused of using racial slurs in the workplace and sexually harassing his employees.

One of his rivals pleaded not guilty in federal court on Thursday to misdemeanor charges after authorities said he rallied Donald Trump’s supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection. Another candidate is a chiropractor who hawked supplements he falsely claimed treated COVID-19.

And even the contender who has garnered mainstream support had an “admittedly lame” hobby acting in low-budget horror pictures, one of which included a zombie biting off a man’s genitals.

In one of the most politically consequential states, the Republican primary for governor is shaping up as a battle of whose personal baggage is the least disqualifying. In an otherwise favorable election year for Republicans, the spectacle surrounding the Aug. 2 contest could hobble the party’s effort to defeat Democratic incumbent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in the fall.

Whitmer can attack every one of them,” said Bernie Porn, a Lansing-based pollster. “There are skeletons in the closet of most of the Republican candidates.”

The GOP campaign has been fraught from the start after the two top candidates were kicked off the ballot for submitting false petition signatures, narrowing the field.

PHOTOS: GOP push to defeat Whitmer threatened by candidates' baggage

The allegations made by four employees in two separate 1992 lawsuits against businessman Kevin Rinke, who ran his family’s suburban Detroit auto-dealership empire, are particularly graphic.

In an interview with The Associated Press this week, Rinke called the allegations “blatantly false” but acknowledged making payouts to the former employees, which he said was less costly than going to trial. Court records indicate Rinke as well as the employees agreed to have the cases dismissed.

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, 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 conduct was reported by his personal secretary. She alleged that he would inquire about her underwear and phone her at home to ask “which young stud” she was with while speculating about her sex life. Once, when employees were looking at pictures of newborn babies, Rinke commented on how well-endowed one of the baby boys was, the lawsuit states.

Another lawsuit filed in the same year by a Black employee alleged Rinke repeatedly made derogatory racist remarks directed at him.

Rinke asked the employee where the car he drove was stolen from, the lawsuit says. When the employee responded that he did not steal, Rinke is alleged to have stated, “You mean you aren’t like the rest?” while using a racial slur. Rinke is alleged to have used the same racial slur several other times, including one instance in which he repeated a sexual stereotype about Black men’s anatomies, 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 help overturn his loss.

Now the former president has an ally seeking the governor’s office. Ryan Kelley, a Grand Rapids-area real estate broker, has made the lie that Trump won in 2020 a focus of his campaign. He was also recorded on video during the Jan. 6 insurrection, directing a mob of Trump supporters toward a set of stairs leading to the U.S. Capitol, which forced police to retreat, the FBI said. He pleaded not guilty during a court appearance Thursday.

Kelley has questioned the timing of his June arrest, arguing it was politically motivated. There was an upside to the arrest, though.

“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, created the Facebook group Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantine, which gained a wide following before the social media company shut it down.

As a candidate, he’s made an appeal to social conservatives with an ad denigrating transgender rights and declaring that his preferred pronouns are “conservative, patriot.”

Before his rise to prominence, Soldano was a self-help author who hawked the supplement Juice Plus, which he falsely claimed “dominated” viruses, including COVID-19, and also gave him “great bowel movements.”

The company has disavowed any claims that Juice Plus was an effective COVID-19 treatment.

Soldano’s campaign said he looks 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 garnered establishment 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 schools have become a hotbed of government-sponsored perversion. She also has 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 drawn criticism as being at odds with her current emphasis on family values.

She had a small role in the 2011 zombie movie Buddy BeBop Vs. the Living Dead in which she is eaten alive by zombies. The film features one scene in which a zombie consumes the midsection 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 scrubbed from public view online. But one clip shows a woman undressing for a male vampire before Dixon’s character emerges from a bathroom with a sword to slash her throat.

James Blair, a strategist for Dixon, downplayed her acting, explaining it was made for adults - not children.

“Tudor’s admittedly lame hobby acting from over a decade ago is in no way out of step with her mission to forge a family friendly Michigan,” said Blair.

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