Republicans gathering for biennial Mackinac conference

MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. — Michigan Republicans are gathering for a three-day summit ahead of 2018 elections in which they hope to keep control of the governor's office and unseat Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow.

The Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference began Friday and runs until Sunday on Mackinac Island. The gathering held every two years is a chance for state candidates to mingle with nearly 2,000 registered party activists and donors. It's also an opportunity for Republicans to hear from leaders from outside Michigan. More than 1,900 people registered for this year's conference, compared to record 2015 attendance of more than 2,200 who listened to five presidential hopefuls.

“If you look at Michigan we have such a great story to tell under republican leadership we’ve become the comeback state: 500,000 private sector jobs created from one of the worst unemployment rates to one of the best in the nation," said Sarah Anderson, Michigan Republican Party Deputy Chief of Staff.

The weekend is focused on policy especially statewide, rather than the divisiveness among republicans toward the President, Anderson said. According to this week's Politico polls, President Trump's approval rating climbed to just above 40 percent overall, and 80 percent within the republican party.

“This is a Michigan focused conference, we’re incredibly proud of our President, we’re proud to have delivered our electoral votes for him," Anderson said.

"But this guy is an outsider and I think we need to give him a little bit more time to accomplish his agenda.”

Speakers this year include U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel and U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California. Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens and Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin also will speak, in addition to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who cannot run again under term limits.

"Our public policy shapes our lives," said Ronna McDaniel, the second RNC Chairwoman in republican history.

"And when you're talking about education, those things matter. I have kids in public school."

Secretary DeVos spoke near the end of the dinner event Friday, just hours after rescinding President Obama-era guidance on investigating campus sexual assault and allowing universities to decide what standard of evidence to use in the interim.

"To be very clear, one sexual assault is one too many," said Sec. DeVos.

"It is horrible and lamentable. But the current failed system didn’t work for students, it didn’t work for institutions, it didn’t work for anyone. It didn’t work because unelected and unaccountable political appointees pushed the guidance groove without any period for comment for those who walked side-by-side with students every day.”

FOX 17's Dana Chicklas will be on Mackinac Island and will have reports on FOX 17 News all weekend.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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