Ryan Kelley is withdrawing from a gubernatorial debate for Republican candidates on June 2 over a disagreement over COVID-19 policy.

Kelley was one of five Republican candidates invited to debate at the Mackinac Policy Conference. People attending the conference will need to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test – although there are no requirements for the debate as it takes place outside.

Kelley told MLive earlier this week he would be attending the debate but skipping the rest of the conference because of COVID requirements. He changed his mind Thursday night, releasing a statement saying he was skipping the debate.

All other Republican candidates should join the boycott, Kelley said.

“Republicans or any freedom-loving American should not attend a conference that requires these far-left policies,” Kelley said. “Michigan residents are poised to break free from the pandemic and COVID tyranny. Republicans who show up at this conference nod their approval of these radical left-wing policies.”

He added he didn’t want to attend a conference where people have to “show their papers”.

Kelley’s name has been removed from the list of “Invited Candidates” on the conference website.

“We regret that Ryan Kelley will not be attending the Michigan Republican gubernatorial nominees debate at the Mackinac Policy Conference. Debates and forums at the conference kick-started the careers of current and former governors and senators,” Brad Williams, vice president of government relations at the Detroit Regional Chamber, said in a statement. “The Chamber is a private entity hosting an event at a privately owned facility and hopes Mr. Kelly’s focus on freedoms will extend to the private sector as well.”

Kelley said he will join the debate when the conference lifts the COVID vaccine/testing requirement for all attendees. Click here to learn more about the COVID requirements for the event.

“It’s still something that I believe is wrong,” Kelley said of the COVID guidelines earlier this week. “It’s not the direction we need to go as a state… It’s just more left-wing propaganda.”

COVID rates have risen in Michigan for seven straight weeks, up to 3,675 confirmed cases per day in the past week. However, cases are still five times lower than omicron’s peak in January.

Kelley is known for taking part in the US Capitol riot on January 6, 2021. The Allendale real estate agent and lifestyle vlogger also raised his profile by organizing support against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s COVID orders.

A recent poll of Michigan voters found Kelley to have the third-highest popularity rating of the 10 Republican gubernatorial nominees — behind James Craig and Perry Johnson.

Regarding who the Republicans would vote for for Kelley ranked fourth out of 500 likely Republican voters in the Glengariff poll. Here’s how the 10 GOP candidates voted:

  • Undecided: 44.6%
  • James Craig: 23.0%
  • Garrett Soldano: 8.2%
  • Kevin Rinke: 5.6%
  • Ryan Kelley: 5.4%
  • Perry Johnson: 5.2%
  • Michael Brown: 2.2%
  • Donna Brandenburg: 2.0%
  • Tudor Dixon: 1.8%
  • Refused to answer: 1.0%
  • Ralph Rebandt: 0.8%
  • Michael Markey Jr.: 0.2%

The top five candidates (Craig, Soldano, Rinke, Kelley and Johnson), all over 5%, were invited to the Mackinac debate.

The Detroit Regional Chamber, which is helping to organize the Mackinac Island event, reserves the right to add candidates who perform well in future polls or remove candidates deemed ineligible for lack of valid signatures.

Craig, Johnson and Dixon’s signatures have been formally challenged for various reasons. The Board of State Acquisitions will make a decision on these challenges by the end of May.

The June 2 event will be the second debate among Republicans looking to run against Whitmer. All 10 candidates were allowed to participate in the first Livingston County debate of 2022, though Craig and Brandenburg opted not to.

GOP voters will decide on their nominee during the Aug. 2 primary. The general election is on November 8th.

The governor debate is just one component of the Mackinac Policy Conference being held at Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel.

The list of speakers includes Los Angeles Clippers owner Whitmer, Steve Ballmer, CNN host Van Jones, former ABC “Nightline” host Ted Koppel, and others. It offers programs on topics such as housing solutions, equal opportunities in the workplace, empowering Generation Z and supporting small businesses.


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