The Republican primary race was highly competitive; both local and national polling reported Congressman Peter Hoekstra, state Attorney General Mike Cox, and businessman Rick Snyder as being front-runners for the Republican Party nomination. The Democratic front-runner when the 2009 polls were conducted, Lieutenant GovernorJohn D. Cherry, withdrew from the race in January 2010. The final polls just days before the primary election showed that, while Lansing mayor Virg Bernero was in the lead, over a quarter of those polled were still undecided. The deadline for candidates to file nominating petitions for the August 3 state primary was 4:00 PM on May 11, 2010.
A total of 1,575,167 registered voters voted in the primaries, with 66.4% of them voting in the Republican primary. Analysts believe a large portion of Democrats crossed party lines to vote for Snyder, whose ad campaign targeted bipartisan and independent support. In Michigan, voters may vote in either primary regardless of their political affiliation, but can only vote for one party. Ballots with split tickets are not counted in partisan races. Both races came in more disparate than predicted. Snyder won with a near 10-point lead over closest rival Pete Hoekstra, and Bernero won with an even larger 17-point lead over early favorite state house speaker Andy Dillon. Both nominees portrayed themselves as political outsiders. On August 25, Snyder appointed State Representative Brian Calley as his running mate. On August 28, Bernero appointed Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence as his running mate.
The Libertarian Party nominee was Kenneth Proctor. The nomination was won at the Michigan Libertarian Convention held in Okemos, Michigan on Saturday, May 22, in accordance with Michigan state law. He beat out Bhagwan Dashairya, who had been the 2006 U.S. Taxpayers Party nominee for governor. The delegates ended up selecting Dashairya as the Libertarian nominee for U.S. Congress in District 8.
Proctor's running mate was Dr. Erwin Haas, MD of Grand Rapids. Hass received the Lt. Governor nomination unanimously.
The Green Party of Michigan held their statewide nominating convention July 31 and August 1 in Lansing, Michigan, and nominated Harley Mikkelson for Governor and Lynn Meadows for Lieutenant Governor.
The 2010 U.S. Taxpayers Party of Michigan convention was held on June 26 in East Lansing, Michigan. In a nearly unanimous vote, Stacey Mathia and Chris Levels were formally nominated as candidates of the U.S. Taxpayers Party of Michigan for the offices of Governor and Lt. Governor.
According to Stacey Mathia's official press release, "The Convention applauded Mathia's agenda to institute Law-Abiding Constitutional Government and State Sovereignty in order to free the People of Michigan from the political oppression of big government operating outside of its authority."
The press release also stated, "Chris Levels, is currently well known as a radio talk show host on WSNL in the Flint, Michigan area. His last minute nomination speech will be available on Mathia’s website. The USTPM Convention gave him a standing applause."
On August 12, it was reported that Virg Bernero accepted invitations to three debates. The first debate would be held September 21 and sponsored by WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids. The second debate would be held October 7 and be broadcast on 55 radio and TV stations throughout the state. The third debate would be held October 21 and would be sponsored by WXYZ-TV, WWJ (AM) and Crain's Detroit Business. Then in early September, Bernero offered Snyder a deal of eight debates. Snyder proposed a counter-offer of three debates, which Bernero refused. A Detroit Free Press editorial was critical of Snyder for not agreeing to debates. Bernero called Snyder a wimp for not agreeing to debate him. An impromptu debate developed after Bernero crashed a town hall meeting Snyder was hosting in Westland on September 13. The two sides agreed to an hour-long televised debate, broadcast on October 10 from the studios of WTVS in Wixom. A group of Detroit clergy have invited the two major party candidates to a debate there on October 21. Only Bernero accepted the invitation.