James Craig blames 'shenanigans' for signatures woes; What's next for Michigan gubernatorial race

James Craig says he's not ready to give up the race for governor, following a recommendation from the Michigan Bureau of Elections that he failed to submit enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. 

"I'm a fighter, always been a fighter. Michigan wants something different. I know, everyone else knows, I was the GOP candidate that would have upset the incumbent," Craig told FOX 2 following the report from the bureau. 

Craig was considered the front-runner for the nomination. But now, he along with four other candidates for Michigan governor may face disqualification instead of a primary race. Perry Johnson, Michael Markey, Michael Brown, and Donna Brandenburg also failed to get enough valid signatures.

It's a major shakeup in a contentious political environment. If the recommendations are upheld, it would also cut the number of Republican candidates running for governor in half. To qualify for the race, candidates need 15,000 signatures from across the state.

But according to the bureau, Craig submitted more than 9,000 fraudulent signatures. Perry Johnson, the self-proclaimed ‘quality guru’ who was also trending in the polls had 9,393 signatures tossed. While the agency uncovered the fake signatures on their own and not by processing challenges to the petitions, it also tossed a challenge to Tudor Dixon's petitions, which alleged the former radio host had listed the wrong date on her petition.

Craig cited his lead in the polls that put a target on his back. "I'm a threat to the Democrat party. I'm also a threat to my other Republican opponents," he said, before alleging that he believes "shenanigans" were real, although he wasn't able to prove it.

In a statement, Johnson said "In my campaign I have always promised to bring quality to every area of Michigan government. It is clear to me that our petition process needs to be overhauled and made more secure to protect the thousands of voters who sign for their preferred candidate."

The news from the bureau drops at a significant point in the race. A high-profile endorsement of Dixon by the Republican-backing Devos family could hold even more sway over the race if two of the other top contenders for the governorship are removed from the campaign.

Norm Shinkle, who sits on the Board of Canvassers as the Republican chair, said he has never seen anything like it. 

"Nothing this widespread," he said, adding he thinks the petition circulators "should go to jail." 

RELATED: James Craig among 5 GOP challengers for governor recommended to be disqualified from primary

The bureau identified 36 circulators who submitted sheets consisting entirely of invalid signatures across at least 10 campaigns, including for governor and local judgeships. Staff did not flag a reason for the fraud but noted the difficulty securing circulators and signatures for campaigns and ballot initiatives nationwide during the pandemic. Circulators often are paid per signature.

Staff identified an unusually large number of sheets with every signature line completed or that showed no normal wear such as folds, scuffing or minor damage from rain. They flagged sheets on which handwriting of certain letters across different signatures and information was near identical. Staff also reported an unusually high number of signatures corresponding to dead voters and to addresses where living voters no longer live.

Charges against those circulators may be an outcome of the petition review. As for the candidates that failed to get enough signatures, the review is only a recommendation and the state Board of Canvassers will have the option to act on it, or reject it when they meet Thursday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report