Gov. Gretchen Whitmer defeated Republican challenger Tudor Dixon on Tuesday, securing her bid for re-election and keeping a Democrat atop the critical swing state, NBC News projects.
Whitmer, who gained a national following during the early days of the pandemic and is viewed as a future contender for higher office, had been seen as a top target for Republicans in 2022.
Polls tightened over the closing weeks. But Whitmer held on, boosted by tens of millions of dollars in ad spending that Dixon, a former right-wing commentator endorsed by former President Donald Trump, never matched.
Whitmer addressed her supporters just after 1 a.m. ET Wednesday, before most news outlets had called the race, and stopped short of celebrating, indicating she was waiting for more results. She formally declared victory in a speech hours later.
"I won't make any predictions for the next four years," Whitmer said. "But I can promise you this: We will make Michigan a place where you can envision your future, a state where anyone — no matter who they are, where they come from, how much money they have in their pocket, who they love or how they identify — can thrive right here."
Dixon conceded Wednesday morning. Her campaign said she had called Whitmer.
“Michigan’s future success rests not in elected officials or government, but all of us," Dixon said. "It is incumbent upon all of us to help our children read, support law enforcement, and grow our economy."
Whitmer, who made the shortlist as Joe Biden searched for a running mate in 2020, has been the subject of future White House speculation. She also has been a frequent foil to Trump — “that woman in Michigan,” he called her dismissively during the Covid-19 lockdowns. And she was the target of a kidnapping plot by men unhappy with her restrictions during the pandemic.
Trump gave few states as much attention as he gave Michigan, which Biden won by about 154,000 votes, or 2.8 percentage points, in 2020. He endorsed a slate of candidates up and down the ballot, many of them outspoken election deniers, and in the closing days of the GOP primary for governor, he endorsed Dixon, who had tiptoed around the issue of 2020 while indulging in unfounded conspiracy theories that cast doubt on the results.
“I believe that there was enough fraud in the election that we have to be very concerned and we have to have the strong election laws that the legislature passed to make sure our elections are fair in the future,” she told MLive in July.
Dixon emerged from the primary field after several more viable candidates were disqualified and Michigan’s influential DeVos family — including Betsy DeVos, who resigned as Trump’s education secretary after the Jan. 6 insurrection — threw their financial support to her.
Rather than tack to the center after she clinched the nomination, Dixon leaned harder on her socially conservative positions and eagerness to fight the culture wars. On primary night, she poked at Whitmer’s support for transgender rights by referring to the governor by the gender-neutral term “birthing parent" and questioning who the “real woman” in the race was.
Early general election polls showed Whitmer leading, aided by money that her campaign and an outside group affiliated with the Democratic Governors Association had put onto Michigan's airwaves. Despite Michigan's swing-state status, Republicans were slow to invest there and never caught up with the other side's spending. Even so, polls showed a closer race brewing over the final week.