NOVI, Mich. (DETROIT FREE PRESS) - Lt. Gov. Brian Calley fought off a challenge from tea party favorite Wes Nakagiri at the Michigan Republican Party's state convention today in Novi and will remain on the ticket with Gov. Rick Snyder in the November election.
In a sign of unity, Nakagiri drew loud applause and only a few boos when he asked that the results be made unanimous so the party could "unite and defeat the Democrats."
The official results were not released, but several party insiders who scrutinize the tally said Calley won with more than 60% of the votes.
Snyder, Calley and the rest of the Republican ticket appeared at a news conference a short time later and said the party is united going into November.
"The party itself and the grassroots has never been stronger," and the energy directed toward the lieutenant governor fight can now be aimed at the Democrats, Calley, a former state representative and banker from Portland in Ionia County, told reporters.
Snyder described the challenge as a successful "exercise in the democratic process."
But it wasn't immediately clear what proportion of Nakagiri supporters would vote for the Snyder-Calley ticket.
"I'm very disappointed," said David Lonier, of Auburn Hills, a Nakagiri supporter who is running for the state House.
"I was hopeful that we would have some counterbalance to this liberal-leaning Republican party."
Nakagiri of Hartland is an engineering manager in the auto industry and tea party activist who tapped unhappiness with the administration's support of issues such as Medicaid expansion related to the Affordable Care Act and the Common Core nationwide education standards.
Lonier said he still plans to support Republican candidates who follow Republican principles, but he would have to "wait and see" whether that would include the governor.
The convention vote capped a protracted battle that featured a fight for precinct delegates and raucous disputes over the election of state convention delegates at some county conventions.
The tea party also was handed a defeat in the other contentious Republican contest today, as Dr. Rob Steele and Ron Weiser were selected to be the party's candidates for the U-M Board of Regents.
Weiser, a former state party chair, national finance chairman and U.S. ambassador to Slovakia, has broad support but fought charges he is a RINO (Republican in Name Only).
Earlier, Snyder gave an emphatic defense of Calley as he opened the Michigan Republican Convention this morning with an unusually animated speech.
"Brian Calley is the best lieutenant governor in the U.S.," Snyder told more than 2,100 delegates at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi.
"He's a strong conservative voice in our administration," Snyder shouted to the crowd. "We don't always see eye to eye, but he speaks up and we work as a team."
Many of Nakagiri's supporters shouted, "No," when Snyder said: "We need to keep Brian in this position."
Snyder touted his administration's record since Republicans swept all major statewide offices in 2010, saying: "Let's sweep again in 2014."
Snyder told the crowd that jobs, personal income and population are all recovering.
"We're hitting on all cylinders," and "this is not the time to go back to the past, to those old broken Michigan days," he said.
State Republicans have repeatedly said a vote for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former congressman Mark Schauer of Battle Creek, would be a vote to return to the policies of former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
But Joshua Pugh, a spokesman for the Michigan Democratic Party, said "it's absurd to see them desperately spinning the outcome of their fractious convention."
Delegates also formally nominated the party's candidates for statewide offices in the Nov. 4 election. They nominated incumbents Bill Schuette for attorney general and Ruth Johnson for secretary of state, and Justices Brian Zahra and David Viviano for the Michigan Supreme Court. Also nominated for the Supreme Court, to fill an open seat, was Kent County Circuit Judge James Robert Redford.
The convention also nominated candidates Maria Carl and Jonathan Williams for the State Board of Education; Michael Busuito and Satish Jasti for the Wayne State University Board of Governors, and Melanie Foster and Jeff Sakwa for the Michigan State University Board of Trustees.
Dan Osterman, a convention delegate who is a mechanical engineer from Belleville, said before the vote that he would likely vote for Nakagiri. The tea party challenger doesn't necessarily need to win, just put up a strong showing, Osterman said.
"It sends a message to the governor," he said. "It would send a clear message to him that you need to start acting like a conservative."
Julie Van Ameyde, a first-time delegate from Northville who owns a social media marketing company, said she believes a governor should be able to pick his own running mate.
"I like Brian Calley," she said. "No one is going to be perfect when it comes to things that you want, but I like Brian Calley and I feel like he is approachable."
The Michigan Democratic Party also is holding its convention this weekend with action taking place Saturday and Sunday at the Lansing Center convention hall.
Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or firstname.lastname@example.org