JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP/ Getty Ryan Kelley
New poll numbers out of Michigan show that Republican gubernatorial candidate Ryan Kelley seemingly rose in popularity after the FBI arrested him on charges related to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.
On June 9, Kelley — one of five candidates hoping to clinch the Republican nomination for governor in August's primary — was taken into custody at his Allendale, Mich., home and charged with four misdemeanors: entering restricted grounds, disorderly conduct on restricted grounds, engaging in an act of physical violence toward a person or property on restricted grounds, and willfully damaging U.S. property.
Kelley, who could face up to a year in prison for each charge if convicted, was released from custody a short while later on his own recognizance, meaning he did not have to post bail. During a hearing Thursday, a federal judge ruled that he may not possess a firearm or travel out of state in most circumstances pending trial.
In spite of the recent controversy, a new poll conducted by the Detroit Free Press and research firm EPIC-MRA between June 10 and 13 shows that Kelley has earned the largest share of support in his race, with 17% of Republicans surveyed naming him their preferred candidate.
Chiropractor Garrett Soldano was the next highest candidate, with 13% of respondents' support, followed by businessman Kevin Rinke with 12%, businesswoman Tudor Dixon with 5%, and pastor Ralph Rebandt with 1%.
The Free Press was quick to note that 45% of Republicans surveyed remain undecided and the margin of error is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points, meaning Kelley is far from a shoo-in, especially with several weeks until the primary election.
Still, the poll determined he is the best-recognized and most respected one in the pack, with 39% viewing him favorably — a significant triumph considering the former frontrunners were recently disqualified from the race for filing fraudulent signatures, throwing the election into upheaval and leaving no obvious nominee.
Jeff Timmer, former executive director of the Michigan Republican Party, tells PEOPLE that Kelley's amplified popularity shows how "dangerous" Republicans in the state have become.
"They are all in an alternate-reality bubble," says Timmer. "I'm old enough to remember when being arrested for treason by the FBI was a bad thing for a candidate and not something that would catapult someone to the stratosphere."
Asked if the other gubernatorial candidates are better equipped to represent the GOP in November, Timmer says they are all "just different versions" of Kelley and "threats to free and fair elections."
"[They'd all] criminalize women who have abortions. They all want to arm classroom teachers with guns. They all oppose LGBTQ equality," he says. "They're all groveling for Trump's attention and endorsement."
Following Kelley's arrest, Ron Weiser, current chairman for the Michigan Republican Party, accused Democrats of "weaponizing our justice system in an unprecedented way against their political opponents."
"Law and order are the bedrock of our democracy," he said in a statement on June 9, "but justice is not served when it is driven by a political agenda. Families and children are now becoming victims of political theater meant to distract from the failures of Democrat policy. It's shameful and must end."
Kelley himself has shared similar sentiments since his arrest, shrugging off the federal charges as "just more Washington, D.C. meddling in Michigan's elections" at an event on Tuesday.
The Michigan primary is scheduled for Aug. 2. Whichever candidate wins the Republican nomination will face Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in the November general election.