The gubernatorial showdown in Michigan has quickly become one of the most exciting races heading into the 2022 midterm elections. Just a few months ago, it seemed that incumbent Governor Gretchen Whitmer would easily secure re-election. Now, she is neck-and-neck with Republican Tudor Dixon.
Things looked good for Whitmer early on, at least partially because the Republican primary was a mess. More than a dozen candidates threw their hat into the ring for the scandal-spoiled race. One of those candidates was arrested for his role in the January 6 riot at the Capitol building, while multiple others were disqualified as part of a signature forgery scheme. This left five Republicans heading into the primary election, which in Michigan is not held until August 2, a disadvantage in and of itself. Tudor Dixon, a former steel industry executive and conservative commentator, emerged victorious.
By September 1, Whitmer had a 28-to-1 cash advantage over Dixon and a nine-point lead.
But Dixon has been surging over the past few weeks. According to the RealClearPolitics average, Whitmer’s lead has now shrunk to less than five points. Trafalgar is polling the race at a dead heat.
Whitmer’s campaign received a huge blow on Thursday when Detroit clerk Janice Winfrey said she expects a 28 percent to 32 percent voter turnout in her city, a huge drop from the 41 percent of Detroit voters who showed up in the 2018 midterms. That year, Whitmer defeated her opponent, Bill Schuette, by just over 400,000 votes. She earned most of her vote advantage in Wayne County, where Detroit is located.
Political strategists who have been following the Michigan race closely tell me they feel Whitmer severely underestimated her opponent and thought she could coast on incumbency. Meanwhile, Dixon has gone on offense. She has been relentless in scrutinizing Whitmer’s record on the pandemic, schools, crime, and the economy, and has referred to Whitmer as the “most radical governor” in the country.
Amid all the pressure, Whitmer made a potentially fatal error in last week’s gubernatorial debate. The governor misrepresented her policies on school closures during the Covid-19 pandemic, stating that kids were only out of school for three months.
“Mrs. Dixon says that I kept students out longer than any other state. That’s just not true… Kids were out for three months,” she claimed.
Conservatives, school choice activists and parents alike slammed Whitmer for her ahistorical comments, which quickly became the viral moment of the debate. In fact, Whitmer’s health department had mandated schools close from March 16, 2020 to the end of the spring term — the three months she is referring to. However, Whitmer also closed schools for several weeks the following November, and again in April of 2021. She never mandated that schools reopen for in-person instruction, and didn’t even recommend they do so until March 2021. Over 75 percent of Michigan students did not attend school fully in-person for at least a year. Many schools closed again for several weeks in January 2022.
In Virginia’s gubernatorial election in 2021, Republican Glenn Youngkin largely built his victory on the parental rights movement. He spoke about pandemic-era school closures, as well as the introduction of critical race theory and left-wing views on transgenderism in public schools. Similar to Whitmer, his Democratic opponent Terry McAuliffe dismissed Youngkin’s concerns and gaslit Virginia parents. His debate line “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach” drew outrage across the state.
A similar fervor is brewing in Michigan. The Muslim community in Dearborn recently showed up to protest the existence of pornographic material in school libraries. One of the books that parents demanded be removed described the “ins and outs of gay sex.” Khalil Othman, a longtime Democrat and former candidate for state representative, said his family would be voting for Dixon because of this issue.
Whitmer has ignored this wave of energy among parents angry with the public school system. Last week, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten, who was the architect and promoter of many of the most harmful Covid-19 policies for schools, campaigned for the Michigan Democratic Party and Whitmer. For many parents, Weingarten is the face of poor academic performance and mental health outcomes for their children. She conveniently believes in the “pandemic amnesty” floated by the Atlantic.
When Whitmer is not using her power as governor of Michigan to flout her own Covid policies, she loves to make silly TikToks. She posted a video in 2020 dancing to Megan Thee Stallion’s song “Savage.” If Dixon is able to successfully complete her comeback, Whitmer might have to perform to lyrics from another viral hit: “It’s me, hi, I’m the problem it’s me.”