LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Democrat Gretchen Whitmer hopes to secure a second-term as Michigan's governor and fend off a late push from political newbie and Republican challenger Tudor Dixon as the two face off in the battleground state's Tuesday election.
Whitmer is once again leading a female-dominated statewide ticket and has made abortion rights a centerpiece of her campaign, telling voters that women's "fundamental rights" are at risk in the upcoming election after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the right to an abortion and threw the issue to the states earlier this year.
She has spent millions on ads attacking Dixon for being too "extreme" on abortion, which went unanswered for months as her Republican opponent struggled to fundraise. Dixon, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump, opposes the procedure in all cases except to save the life of the mother.
The Democrat has also thrown her support to a Michigan ballot measure seeking to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution and overrule a 1931 law that was triggered after the fall of Roe v. Wade that would criminalize abortion. Michigan Democrats hope the proposal will lead to high voter turnout statewide and give the party key victories in U.S. House and state legislative races.
While seemingly one-sided for months, a surge in funding from national Republicans and primetime debate performances have helped increase Dixon's name recognition in a state that had a GOP governor just four years ago. Republicans have gained an edge in races across the country with economic anxiety due to increasing gas prices and high inflation tied to Biden and Democrats.
Dixon is a former commentator for a conservative online program backed by the former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her politically powerful and wealthy family. She won a highly contested August primary after the two predicted frontrunners, James Craig and Perry Johnson, were eliminated in a signature fraud scandal.
The Republican candidate struggled to keep up with Whitmer's multimillion-dollar campaign fund in early months, with Whitmer holding 30 times more cash on hand at the end of August. She acknowledged during an Oct. 13 debate that it was the first time many voters were hearing from her directly.
Defined early by her abortion stance and denial of the 2020 election results, Dixon has since tried to pivot by focusing on inflation and education. She has called for banning "pornographic" books in schools and has pitched an education agenda modeled after the Florida policy that critics have labeled " Don't Say Gay."
Pro-Dixon groups began airing statewide television ads for the first time in the beginning of October that attacked Whitmer for her handling of the pandemic. Dixon has said the governor was heavy handed in issuing lockdowns that hurt small businesses and the statewide economy and kept kids out of school while Whitmer claims that if Dixon were governor, "thousands more people would have died."
The outcome of the November race is significant beyond Michigan, a presidential election battleground. The winner will be in office for the 2024 contest, and could influence voting laws and how the election is conducted. Trump, President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama have all visited the state in recent weeks to rally support for their party's candidates.
Dixon, who falsely claimed during the Republican primary that she believed the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, has been vague about her attitude toward election security during the general election. When asked if she would accept the results of the 2022 gubernatorial election, Dixon said she would "look at what happens in November and make sure that the Secretary of State follows the law."
Follow AP's coverage of the elections at: https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections
Check out https://apnews.com/hub/explaining-the-elections to learn more about the issues and factors at play in the 2022 midterm elections
Joey Cappelletti is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.