GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) - The candidates for governor of Michigan are having their first debate on Thursday, as Republican challenger Tudor Dixon looks to use the primetime appearance to narrow her gap with Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Dixon is a former commentator for a conservative online program who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump. She has never held public office and is still working to introduce herself and her ideas to voters — some of whom may be seeing her in action for the first time at Thursday’s debate.
For months, Whitmer and fellow Democrats have been airing attack ads portraying the Republican as too extreme on issues such as abortion, noting Dixon’s opposition to the procedure even in cases of rape or incest. Those ads have largely gone unanswered as Dixon has struggled to raise money to compete with Whitmer’s multimillion-dollar campaign fund.
But with just weeks to go before the Nov. 8 election, Dixon is expected to fire back at Whitmer during the debate in Grand Rapids. She has described the governor’s views as "radical" on issues such as education, abortion and criminal justice. Dixon also has criticized Whitmer on the campaign trail for her approach to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying lockdowns she imposed hurt the state’s economy.
Whitmer is seeking her second term as governor after serving in leadership in the Michigan Legislature, where in 2013 during a debate over insurance coverage of abortion she publicly shared her story of being raped. She has since said she will "fight like hell" to protect abortion rights, including filing a lawsuit earlier this year to block a 1931 ban from taking effect in the state after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
Abortion has been a particularly prominent issue in Michigan this year because voters in November also will decide whether to enshrine the right to the procedure in the state constitution.
Dixon has said she supports abortion only to save the life of the mother, and she has been endorsed by anti-abortion groups, including Right to Life of Michigan.
She has had support from the family of Betsy DeVos, the former Education Secretary under Trump, and a well-known member of the state’s GOP establishment. Her campaign said she was getting help preparing for the debate from another endorsee, former Gov. John Engler.
Dixon emerged from a five-candidate Republican primary after receiving Trump’s endorsement. She said during the primary that she believed the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, whose loss to Joe Biden in Michigan by some 154,000 votes was confirmed through multiple investigations and lawsuits.
The mother of four has criticized Whitmer over education in the state, saying parents should have more rights in regard to what is taught to children.
The two candidates are scheduled to debate again on Oct. 25 at Oakland University in Rochester.