DETROIT (WXYZ) — Tudor Dixon, the Republican candidate for governor, will need to pick a running mate — a lieutenant governor candidate — this week.
7 Action News has learned that three of the four people on her short list are from metro Detroit. Two of them are experienced politicians in the system. The other two are former NBA stars and successful businessmen.
Four issues are being weighed to pick the running mate; they are legislative experience, geography, balance in the ticket, and, like it or not, in a very split Republican party, former President Donald Trump’s influence.
Trump endorsed Dixon days before she won the primary just two weeks ago.
“Yes, she cannot offend him in any way, shape or form. But she has to also prove that she can win this race on her own,” said Chuck Stokes, WXYZ’s political analyst and editorial director.
One of the four candidates in the running, according to Dixon campaign insiders, is former Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger. But is he tied too much with the Grand Rapids DeVos family, a group of establishment Republicans who some say aren’t Trump enough?
Another candidate is former Oakland County Congressman and state Senate Republican Leader Mike Bishop. Both Bishop and Bolger check the box of legislative experience.
Dixon is a conservative radio host with a business background. Democratic incumbent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who has spent four years in office, was previously the state Senate Democratic leader.
“That’s important because Tudor Dixon has no experience in the Michigan Legislature. Doesn't mean she can't learn it. But she has none. She doesn't have those relationships. She doesn't really know her way to the bathroom down there yet,” Stokes said.
The other two potential running mates are former NBA stars and now successful businessmen: Vinnie Johnson of the Detroit Pistons, who started in 1995 and still heads the Piston Group auto supplier, and Willie Burton, who lives in metro Detroit and runs Excel U, an education program alternative to public education.
After our story aired, Johnson issued the following statement:
I have seen the press reports associating me with the Dixon campaign. I have never been contacted by Mrs. Dixon or anyone from her campaign and I’m not associated with her campaign or any other. I wish all candidates the best of luck.
“It brings in what we've often talked about — trying to attract new voters and voters of color to the Republican party," Stokes said.
Burton emerged last winter in a talk with the North Oakland Republican Club.
“I'm a Republican and the reason I'm a Republican is the same thing that I say to my African American family members that asked me why I'm a Republican. It's kind of simple: I had eights aunts and uncles who were on welfare,” Burton told the group.
He told the crowd he took on their children and helped them become a success, keeping them in school.
“Each and every one of those children of eight of those aunts now have their own homes, their own cars, no one’s in prison,” Burton said.
He has been on the campaign trail with Dixon and he says this about Trump:
“Donald trump gave me my first check before the NBA,” Burton said.
Burton said Trump invited him and nine other new NBA players to Atlantic City in 1990 to launch their pro career. During this eight-minute talk in January, he did not say anything about the 2020 election and Trump.
He did say this: “I'm not going to lie, I kind of like his ass-kicking technique. Because you have to gain respect, because people try to try, and they try America left and right."
Johnson and Burton can attract much-needed voters within the Republican party, independents, and undecided Democratic voters.
Johnson, Burton and Bishop are from metro Detroit.
Four years ago, Whitmer from Lansing and with a western Michigan background picked Garlin Gilchrist, a newcomer to state politics, but from Detroit, to help her support there. Geographics are important.
“'Here's someone that if you win, I have a connection to and they aren't going to forget about us here in Southeast Michigan,'" Stokes said of thoughts from some voters.
Politics are also about money. After the running mate is announced, the Dixon ticket must poll close to Whitmer to bring in much-needed national Political Action Committee donations.
“The governor of this state who has a ton of money, a big war chest out there,” Stokes said.
If the ticket does not impress, the campaign will be at a big financial disadvantage, not attracting the national money.
“They think this is a lost cause, they're going to take their money and they're going to put it in another state where they feel they have a better shot,” Stokes said of PAC donations.
The pick must be made by Friday at 5 p.m. We are told the plan at this point is to announce the running mate during a news conference on Friday.