A Detroit Free Press/EPIC-MRA poll of the early 2022 governor's race shows incumbent Gretchen Whitmer in a virtual tie with the potential GOP nominee, ex-Detroit police chief James Craig. Craig is expected to formally declare he is running sometime around Labor Day, but there are other declared candidates and the nomination process is a year away.
The poll, conducted for the Detroit Free Press and our outstate polling partners by EPIC-MRA of Lansing, found 45% of likely Michigan voters surveyed would vote for Whitmer and 44% would vote for Craig. The one-point gap is well within the poll's margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. Another 11% were undecided or refused to say.
The poll suggests Whitmer, a Democrat expected to seek a second four-year term in 2022, is vulnerable after nearly 18 months of grappling with a coronavirus pandemic that has been highly politicized and, for many Michigan residents, emotionally exhausting. Whitmer drew praise and a heightened national profile for her actions early in the pandemic, but also criticism for alleged overreach and for not always observing her own administration's precautions. Last October, the FBI and state officials uncovered an alleged plot by domestic terrorists to kidnap her.
There are large caveats to these results, however:
Though encouraging for Craig, the poll, conducted Aug. 9-15, found 52% of those surveyed do not know who he is. Craig, who has never run for elected office, has mostly restricted his media appearances to GOP-friendly venues such as Fox News and took no questions after speeches at GOP events in Grand Rapids and Jackson in July.
Craig has not said how he views former President Donald Trump's false claims that the November election was stolen due to widespread fraud or whether he thinks Trump was an instigator of the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
These are large obstacles for Craig to navigate. However, the underlying message is that Whitmer is swimming with sharks:
"Any time you have a dead-even match with a Republican who is unknown by more than half the voters, you should be concerned about that," said Bernie Porn, president of EPIC-MRA.
Other poll questions involved pandemic rules and found that most residents support indoor mask mandates, but oppose vaccine mandates.