Dixon-Whitmer's 'high stakes fight' for Michigan's top job reaches final hours

Pontiac — Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Republican challenger Tudor Dixon both contended they were problem solvers Sunday during some of their final campaign stops before Election Day, but they identified vastly different topics needing attention.

Less than 48 hours before polls open in Michigan, Dixon held a rally Sunday evening in Macomb County, the largest county Republican Donald Trump won in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. On Sunday afternoon, Whitmer, who's seeking a second term in the state's top office, met with supporters in neighboring Oakland County, inside downtown Pontiac's Crofoot venue.

Tuesday's election, Whitmer said, will be decided in Oakland County, Michigan's second-most populous county and one that has increasingly favored Democrats in recent years. As a Southfield high school marching band warmed up outside the building, Whitmer touted record investments in K-12 education, said she would protect abortion rights and vowed to stand in the way of efforts to disenfranchise voters.

"This is a high-stakes fight," Whitmer told a crowd of about 100 people. "This is a high-stakes election. I will stay in this arena. I'll take all the stuff they throw my way. (If) they knock me down, I'll jump right back on my feet."

After the event, Whitmer, a former state lawmaker from East Lansing, told reporters Michigan needed a "problem solver, not a culture warrior," referring to Dixon, who has spoken out against sexually explicit materials in school libraries and transgender athletes competing in women's sports.

"I'm looking to find common ground with people (to) continue to pushing Michigan forward, not to throw gas on the fire and create problems," Whitmer said. "I want to solve problems."

After her stop in Macomb County, Dixon agreed with Whitmer's assertion that Michigan needed a problem solver. The next governor should focus on tackling low student test scores, reversing policies that pushed some businesses out of the state and reassuring police officers who quit because they felt they didn't have “a partner in state government," the Republican argued.

“I plan to solve all of those problems for the state of Michigan,” said Dixon, a political commentator from Norton Shores.

When asked whether she considered herself a “culture warrior,” Dixon said she was standing up for parents.

“I believe that’s doing what’s right,” she said.

Dixon addressed a crowd of a few hundred supporters Sunday from a stage set up in a strip mall parking lot in Sterling Heights, with a Stellantis assembly plant across Van Dyke Avenue as a backdrop. Dixon’s speech to Macomb County Republicans centered on supporting law enforcement, providing individual tax relief and easing business regulations and taxes in order to attract and retain more job providers.

“We will no longer tolerate a state government that goes after our businesses on a regular basis,” Dixon said. “Our farmers, our manufacturers, our builders feel like they are constantly under attack by Gretchen Whitmer’s administration.”

Danielle Urbaniak of Sterling Heights, who was among Dixon’s supporters in attendance Sunday, said she’s a regular Republican voter but is more invested this year because of the economy and decisions by the Whitmer administration during the COVID-19 pandemic that led to prolonged business shutdowns. Urbaniak’s husband was laid off recently due to the economic downturn.

For Urbaniak, whose father was a police officer, a candidate’s backing of law enforcement also is among the issues she watches closest.

“We support anyone who supports the police and doesn’t want to defund the police,” Urbaniak said.

In 2020, the Democratic governor said she supported the “spirit” of efforts to defund police agencies. The conversation surrounding the “defund the police” movement was really about reprioritizing taxpayer resources, she told The Root in June 2020. But Whitmer has worked to provide police departments with more money to hire additional officers.

Most public polling has shown Whitmer with a lead in her race against Dixon, a first-time candidate who gained Trump's backing in July. The incumbent Democrat was up 9 percentage points, 52%-43%, in an Oct. 26-28 survey of 600 likely voters sponsored by The Detroit News and WDIV-TV. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

On Sunday, the governor said her team was expecting and planning for the election to be tight.

"We've always thought this would be a close race," Whitmer said. "I know that a lot of wonderful pollsters put out public polls that showed double digits. I never bought it."

The governor said she felt "good about the prospects" of Democrats maintaining their hold on Michigan's top three offices. Attorney General Dana Nessel, challenged by Republican Matt DePerno, and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, opposed by GOP nominee Kristina Karamo, are also on Tuesday's ballot.

The results will come down to "who turns out to vote," Whitmer said.

Both Nessel and Benson appeared Sunday with Whitmer in Oakland County. Benson said their GOP opponents won't acknowledge that Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden in 2020.

"I don't think we should turn the keys ... of democracy over to folks who are denying democracy or denying the voices and votes of citizens in this state," Benson said.

Nikki Vinckier of Birmingham was among the Whitmer supporters in attendance for the Pontiac event.

Vinckier said women's reproductive rights were the top issue for her. Dixon opposes abortion rights and has been endorsed by the anti-abortion group Right to Life of Michigan.

Vinckier said she would be voting "yes" on Proposal 3, which would enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution, along with the Democratic candidates on the ballot.

"That's the name of the game, right?" she said. "That's everything right now."