IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Hostilities run high in closing days of Michigan's race for governor

As Gov. Gretchen Whitmer works to fend off a challenge from Trump-backed Tudor Dixon, Democrats warn about threats to democracy and Republicans emphasize parents' rights.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon.Erin Kirkland/Bloomberg via Getty Images ; Bryan Esler/Nexstar Media Group/WOOD-TV via AP file

MIDLAND, Mich. — The closing days of Michigan’s midterm elections for governor and other statewide offices have erupted into a scramble, with tightening polls, hostile tones and dire warnings from both parties.

“As the state of Michigan goes, so goes the whole country, and as the United States of America goes, so goes the globe,” Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told supporters Tuesday afternoon in the Detroit suburb of Clawson. “The whole world is counting on us.”

Michigan is a key battleground this year. Former President Donald Trump, who has rallied other Republicans around the false idea that the 2020 election was stolen from him in the state and elsewhere — has prioritized the state, endorsing election-denying candidates from governor on down to the state Legislature.

Whitmer and her Democratic allies have largely framed Tuesday’s general election as a fight to preserve abortion rights — a constitutional amendment to enshrine them is on the ballot — and to keep Trump’s allies from gaining power over Michigan’s election administration. Republican challenger Tudor Dixon has dismissed that messaging.

“It’s really about power for them,” Dixon said Wednesday night at a rally here in Midland. “Look, I am asking you for the honor of serving you and leading — it’s not about power.”

Recent polls have been mixed, with some showing Whitmer leading Dixon outside the margins of error and others showing a toss-up between the two. Dixon, who scored Trump’s endorsement days before her victory in a crowded August primary, has embraced disproven theories that fraud and untoward efforts by Democratic officeholders affected the outcome in Michigan and tipped the election to President Joe Biden. 

Dixon and her GOP allies have been vastly outspent in advertising by Whitmer and the Democrats — $6.7 million to $40 million through Wednesday, according to AdImpact, an ad-tracking firm. Put Michigan First — a group affiliated with the Democratic Governors Association that has been the biggest spender in the race — unleashed a new ad this week that brands Dixon as an election denier and conspiracy theorist. Dixon objected to the charge Wednesday night.

“I will always follow the Constitution,” Dixon told reporters after her rally in Midland. “I will always follow the law, no matter what it is.” Whitmer, she added, is “trying to paint me like this because she really does not have a plan to run on.”

Dixon and her GOP ticket-mates have not made the 2020 election central to their pitch as they compete for general election votes. Instead, they have rallied around Dixon’s message of individual freedom and parents’ rights, which folds in everything from criticism of Whitmer’s handling of the pandemic to incendiary rhetoric about transgender people.

Whitmer’s rally Tuesday in Clawson was a late afternoon gathering, with about 100 people packed onto the dining room floor of a trendy small-plates restaurant. One supporter waved a homemade sign depicting Dixon as the puppet of the DeVos family, influential players in Michigan politics whose fundraising helped elevate Dixon in the primary. 

One by one, Democrats seeking office took the stage to warn about threats against women’s reproductive rights and democracy. An event with volunteers Wednesday afternoon in Mt. Pleasant was even more intimate, with Whitmer speaking less than three minutes.

“This is a high-stakes moment,” Whitmer told the volunteers as they prepared to knock on doors. “So we got six days, six more days. So the kids can eat pizza for dinner. The laundry can wait until later next week. Hell, the laundry can wait until Thanksgiving.”

By comparison, Dixon’s event Wednesday night in Midland came off as a Trump rally in miniature. Roughly 500 people flooded into the parking lot of a banquet center, many of them carrying their own camping chairs. One particularly exuberant man danced wildly to a classic rock playlist that included The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Another held a homemade sign that spelled out Whitmer’s name with a string of insults: “Wicked, Harpy, Icky, Twitchy, Mangy, Eerie, Rancid.”

And then there was Dixon, a former commentator on the right-wing Real America’s Voice network, pacing a stage with a microphone in front of a huge tour bus with her face plastered on the side and offering herself as a champion of a silent majority.

Dixon is sure she can win, she said, because so many people approach her to whisper their support, including a parent trick-or-treating with his daughter at her house on Halloween.

“I’m thinking, we’re at my house. The people around here know me. It’s OK. You can say it out loud,” Dixon said. “But that I kind of love because it just makes me believe that I am going to see so many people on Tuesday that no one was expecting because they were whispering.”