The Perfect Enemy | Conspiracies and COVID-19 mark final days of gubernatorial race
December 2, 2022
Read Time:5 Minute

On stage, in front of the supersized vinyl Tudor Dixon covering her campaign bus, the life-size Tudor Dixon spent the better part of 20 minutes talking about Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

The Republican gubernatorial candidate is using the final days of the campaign to crisscross Michigan and remind enthusiastic supporters about all her Democratic opponent has purportedly wrought. Dixon has promised to undo it all once elected and return Michigan to its glory days.

“I’m gonna make sure that we bring Michigan back for you,” Dixon said Thursday in Plymouth. “We can bring back great schools, we can have safe communities, we can bring back the American dream — get out and vote.”

Related: ‘Back to basics:’ Tudor Dixon’s strategy for Michigan’s schools, police and government

Over the course of her campaign, Dixon has honed an acerbic condemnation of Whiter’s first four years in office, centered on education and the economy and framed by the pandemic. In Dixon’s telling, COVID lockdowns exposed Whitmer’s callousness and tyrannical inclinations as she made a series of disastrous missteps, hobbling the economy and children’s education.

“As we’ve … met people from all across the state and they have said to me, ‘please bring our communities back,’” Dixon said. “She crushed our small businesses and continues to use her agencies to go after our small businesses, to go after our farmers, our builders, our manufacturers. They have agencies in there every day citing them, fining them, shutting them down, and they are sick and tired of it.”

On their own tour, Democrats say they’re playing defense on multiple fronts.

It has nothing to do with rebutting Republican talking points, however. Instead, Whitmer and her counterparts at the top of the ticket, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, have argued they’re the front line of defense against Republican efforts to undermine crucial rights and programs.

Related: Gubernatorial candidates prepare for final campaign swings by bus

To a small gathering of staff and volunteers this week, Whitmer said “everything comes down to this moment.”

“Not to put too much pressure on you, but the whole world is counting on us,” Whitmer said. “To make sure that we save democracy, to make sure that we protect and ensure that women can continue to make their own choices about our lives, to make sure that we keep funding and focusing on public education, creating opportunity for every person no matter who you are, who you love, how you identify, what part of the state you come from or how much money’s in your pocket.”

Related: Tudor Dixon asks to set abortion aside from Michigan governor’s race

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer speaks during a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit on October 29, 2022.Ryan Sun | rsun@mlive.com

Democrats are betting Michiganders see Whitmer as a steady hand who saved lives by acting cautiously in the pandemic’s early days. They’re relying on voters to recognize the ensuing economic damage and ongoing high inflation as global problems outside the scope of a governor’s power.

Lawrence Ransom, of Canton, was at Whitmer’s rally and said he thought the Governor handled the pandemic well.

“She saved lives. That’s the most important thing. You know, I have a daughter that was just starting school and I’d rather her be at home and be home taught then,” he said. “Not risk anything with the pandemic and any kind of illness.”

A union auto worker, he said he saw inflation as a larger problem rooted partially in the global supply chain issues that have crippled the auto industry. Ransom, who is younger and Black, conceded his older white counterparts on the assembly line largely don’t see these issues the same way.

Michael Estigoy of Livonia, a supporter at Dixon’s rally, readily blamed Whitmer for everything that Dixon accused her of.

“Every time I go to the grocery store, I see butter that used to be $2.50 a pound up to $5.95,” he said.

Funding increases and economic development deals under her administration, Whitmer insists, have set the state on a trajectory for long-term growth.

“All this record investment, from autos to semiconductors to life sciences, these are the good paying jobs that will sustain generations of Michiganders, and that’s what that’s why we do this work,” Whitmer told reporters Thursday. “It’s about creating opportunity for every person in this state.”

Related: Education, climate change and the economy top Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s priorities for reelection bid

Democrats have struck back at top Republican candidates by highlighting their past endorsement of conspiracy theories. Whitmer said the Republican candidates want to “undermine an election that hasn’t even happened yet.”

“All of the GOP statewide nominees are election deniers and they are conspiracy theorists and they are people who peddle in this and get people all worked up and stoke violent rhetoric,” Whitmer said in Lansing Tuesday. “I guess it’s to be expected by this group, but it’s really, really dangerous.”

Related: Threats are just part of life for gubernatorial candidates, Tudor Dixon says

A clip, first reported by CNN last week, showed Dixon in 2020, on the fringe network Real America’s Voice saying in 2020 Democrats wanted to “topple” the U.S. and suggested they wanted to “gladly own” slaves today. Dixon hasn’t answered questions about whether she stands by the comments, calling it a “desperate attempt to change the subject.” She suggested she was calling for a proper teaching of history without elaborating further.

Dixon is leaning again into the culture wars by campaigning with a former NCAA swimmer, Riley Gaines, who tied for fifth place last year in a race with a transgender athlete. Introducing Dixon in Taylor Thursday night, Gaines didn’t speak about the election or issues facing Michiganders. She said she supported Dixon for her calls to ban transgender athletes from participating in sports with the gender they identify with.

Related: Culture wars take center stage in Tudor Dixon’s education proposals

Crowds at campaign stops for Dixon have been large and animated, drawing from the general public to an extent Whitmer’s campaign hasn’t matched. But polls, though some are within the margin of error, have consistently shown Whitmer in the lead. The model developed by FiveThirtyEight predicts Whitmer has 88% odds of winning the election — down 9 percentage points from one month ago. The election is Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Read more on MLive:

From Congress to abortion: Who, and what, is on Michigan’s November ballot

Judge notes confusion, lack of evidence in Karamo’s Detroit absentee ballot suit

The gloves come off in second Whitmer-Dixon debate

Dixon campaign spent $5k on designer clothing, prompting Dem complaint

Dixon nearly matches Whitmer’s fundraising. Her spending doesn’t come close.