Oct 17, 2022 - News

What to know from Michigan's first gubernatorial debate

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Tudor Dixon

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Republican candidate Tudor Dixon. Photos: Samuel Robinson/Axios

Michigan's gubernatorial candidates squared off in Grand Rapids last week in a debate that featured two women for the first time in state history.

What happened: The debate, moderated by WOOD-TV8's Rick Albin, was tailored for undecided voters to get a clearer picture of where candidates stand on important topics.

  • Candidates answered questions on how they would solve issues affecting education, abortion access, law enforcement funding, infrastructure and the economy.

Between the lines: The debates won't sway enough people to impact the outcome, but they do increase voter awareness of the upcoming election. That's important for political newcomer Tudor Dixon, the Republican lagging far behind Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in polling and name recognition.

  • The former conservative pundit turned gubernatorial candidate impressed politicos and commentators, but can a solid debate performance close the gap on the governor?

Here are three takeaways from Thursday's debate:

Dixon knows what she's doing

Don't just take our word for it — watch the replay of the debate.

  • Dixon is well-informed on issues. She has a clear grasp on the state's problems in a way the Republican candidates for attorney general, Matt DePerno, and secretary of state, Kristina Karamo, have not yet shown.
  • The Republican candidate hit Whitmer on her historic veto record and showed why she was positioned as the party's primary candidate most able to give Whitmer a serious challenge.

It should've been televised

Metro Detroiters, who make up half the state, had no way to watch the debate on TV, though it was live streamed by Channel 4 and West Michigan's WOOD-TV8.

  • "(Tudor) has a name ID problem, even with Republicans," Democratic consultant Adrian Hemond tells Axios.
  • "Dixon, though, should be able to seize on this new momentum through enarned media in her quest to change the subject from abortion to Whitmer's record," says Republican strategist John Sellek.
  • WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) will air the final debate Oct. 25 at Oakland University.

Both sides see wins

Sellek tells Axios the debate was an overall victory for Dixon, but wasn't a knockout.

  • "The strategy Whitmer's team employed was to continue her $40 million advertising campaign in person, staying positive, claiming competence and countering a poor Democratic year by aiming to be the safer choice for independent and soft Republican voters," Sellek says. "Whitmer seemed handcuffed by that strategy once Dixon began a flow of attacks from start to finish."
  • Hemond tells Axios there was no winner: "[Dixon] performed credibly, but I don't think she did anything to damage the governor," Hemond says. "Given the state of polling in this race up until now, in even the most favorable polls for Dixon, she needed to do some damage to that Governor last night and she didn't."

💭 Sam's thought bubble: That Dixon got the nomination instead of former front runners James Craig or Perry Johnson was virtually a fluke after widespread petition fraud in the spring rocked the primary race.

  • A fluke that, after Dixon's strong performance, Republican lawmakers are probably thankful for.

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