JACKSON, Mich. (AP) — Ex-Detroit police chief James Craig on Tuesday sought to burnish his Republican credentials before a likely run for governor, telling party stalwarts about his evolution from being a “born” Democrat.

Craig, who retired last month, said he has been a Republican for many years and voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020. He said he opposes abortion and supports gun rights along with the police, the military, and the principle of self-reliance rather than a “victimhood mentality” allegedly being pushed by Democratic leaders.

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Retired Detroit Police Chief James Craig speaks at the Jackson County Republican Committee “Under the Oaks” birthday celebration on Tuesday, July 6, 2021 in Jackson, Mich. The event celebrated the 167th anniversary of the founding of the Republican Party at the corner of Second and Franklin streets in Jackson. This was the first political speech for Craig since his June 1 retirement after eight years as Detroit’s police chief. (J. Scott Park/Jackson Citizen Patriot via AP)

He touted his efforts to keep Detroit, his hometown, safe last year amid tense nationwide protests against police killings of Black people. He hinted at, but stopped short, of declaring his candidacy to seek the 2022 GOP nomination against Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, whom he criticized by saying America is not a “monarchy.”

It appeared to be an allusion to sweeping orders she issued to control COVID-19. He also ripped U.S. Reps. Maxine Waters and Rashida Tlaib and declared he will never back down to “liberal wokeism.”

“There will be plenty of time to address issues and leadership in the near future. Today, in Jackson, our focus is on the founding of our party,” Craig, 64, told a crowd at the site of the first mass gathering of the Republican Party in 1854. “We are a party that offers a better path forward that emphasizes success through self-reliance.”

He quickly left the event without speaking to reporters.

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Six Republicans have formed a gubernatorial committee. All are lesser-known candidates. Among those who attended Craig’s 22-minute speech were Michigan Republican Party Chairman Ron Weiser, Co-chairman Meshawn Maddock, other party officials, and various current and former state lawmakers.

Retired Detroit Police Chief James Craig speaks at the Jackson County Republican Committee “Under the Oaks” birthday celebration on Tuesday, July 6, 2021 in Jackson, Mich. Craig is seeking to burnish his Republican credentials before a likely run for governor, telling party stalwarts about his evolution from being a “born” Democrat. Craig, who retired last month, said Tuesday he has been a Republican for many years and voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020. (J. Scott Park/Jackson Citizen Patriot via AP)

“We’re not trying to coronate anybody. That’s all determined in a primary, where the people vote — not the party,” Weiser told reporters. He said Craig would be a “strong” candidate if he runs, pointing to his background, his support for conservative principles, and his leadership experience having run three police departments.

Craig, who is African American, said he was automatically considered a Democrat while growing up in Detroit. Life occurrences, including his jobs, his views on “failed” urban policies, and his study of history, he said, later led him to vote Republican.

“You are born a Democrat. But over time, as you have your own life experiences, and the opportunity to form your own worldview, you come to your own conclusions,” he said.

The state Democratic Party criticized Craig for not using the speech to condemn Trump’s “big lie” that the election was stolen. Spokesperson Rodericka Applewhaite called it a “thumb-on-the-scale event featuring heaps of establishment praise … in what’s already looking like a rigged primary for those that have actually launched their campaigns.”

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