CLARKSTON, Mich. — As she runs to guide a narrowly divided swing state, Tudor Dixon is pursuing a hazardous strategy within the Michigan governor’s race: embracing Donald J. Trump, and at times emulating his no-holds-barred political style.
She hit the campaign trail recently with the previous president’s son Donald Trump Jr. and Kellyanne Conway, the onetime Trump White House adviser — and, in Trumpian fashion, made headlines for mocking her Democratic opponent, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, over a 2020 kidnapping plot hatched against her by right-wing militia members.
In other appearances, Ms. Dixon called for a ban on transgender girls playing in girl’s and girls’s sports. And on a recent afternoon at an athletic club in an affluent suburb northwest of Detroit, where a life-size cutout of Mr. Trump stood by the doors, she promoted his so-called America First business policies.
“‘America First’ — Michigan First — will bring Michigan back together,” she said.
The governor’s race between Ms. Dixon and Ms. Whitmer carries high stakes for abortion rights, schools and the longer term of elections. It’s historic — the primary time two women have ever gone head-to-head for the position within the state.
The competition also serves as a test of whether Ms. Dixon and other Republican candidates can win their general elections by harnessing the grass-roots energy of Trump supporters that propelled them to the highest of crowded and chaotic primaries. That approach — which entails a detailed association with Mr. Trump’s election denialism and other political baggage — worries some Michigan Republicans who imagine Ms. Dixon is failing to win over the sorts of suburban and independent voters who’re crucial in tight races.
But it surely could be the one option she has. Early voting began on Thursday, and with time running out, Ms. Dixon is brief on money, well behind in polls, still working to shore up support amongst her Republican base and being pummeled by Democrats on the tv airwaves.
“Uphill, on icy roads,” said Dennis Darnoi, a longtime Republican strategist in Michigan, describing her path to victory. “It’s a challenge, with a month left, for her to make up the type of ground that she goes to want.”
Ms. Dixon, who is ready to seem alongside Mr. Trump at a rally on Saturday in Macomb County, has appeared unfazed, arguing that her recent fund-raising numbers have been high and that her message will ultimately resonate with voters greater than Ms. Whitmer’s.
Asked in regards to the challenges ahead for the campaign and Democrats’ large spending numbers, Sara Broadwater, Ms. Dixon’s communications director, took shots at pollsters, saying they didn’t predict Mr. Trump’s 2016 victory.
The State of the 2022 Midterm Elections
With the primaries over, each parties are shifting their focus to the final election on Nov. 8.
“As Tudor said the opposite day in response to an identical query, ‘Isn’t it sad that the Democrats must spend a lot money?’” Ms. Broadwater said. “Gretchen Whitmer stays highly vulnerable as pro-Dixon forces begin to fireplace back and her campaign gains momentum.”
Not all Republicans who closely aligned themselves with Mr. Trump have struggled to pivot from the first election to the final. In Arizona, the Republican nominee for governor, Kari Lake, has taken an identical approach, and has narrowed her race to a dead heat — but unlike Ms. Dixon, she just isn’t facing an incumbent governor like Ms. Whitmer.
Other candidates backed by Mr. Trump, like Blake Masters in Arizona’s Senate race and Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania’s contest for governor, have fallen behind their Democratic opponents as they’ve struggled to boost money. One other Republican Senate hopeful, J.D. Vance, is facing a closer-than-expected race in Ohio.
Mr. Trump has maintained a keen interest in Michigan. He eked out a victory within the state in 2016 by fewer than 11,000 votes before losing to Joseph R. Biden Jr. in 2020 by greater than 154,000 votes.
Days before the Republican primary in early August, Mr. Trump endorsed Ms. Dixon, a conservative media personality backed by Michigan’s powerful DeVos family.
Ms. Dixon, 45, a breast cancer survivor, worked as a steel industry executive until 2017, when she helped create Lumen Student News, an organization that produces conservative TV news and history lessons for middle and highschool students.
In a December 2021 radio interview, she said she aimed to revive students’ faith within the country and combat what she described as “indoctrination” in schools. After helping found Lumen, Ms. Dixon went on to host a news show, “America’s Voice Live,” on weekday afternoons.
On the stump, Ms. Dixon says she became a vocal critic of Ms. Whitmer’s coronavirus restrictions as she witnessed their negative impact on Michigan’s economy. The protection measures “took a deeply personal turn,” Ms. Dixon’s website states, after her grandmother died in a Norton Shores nursing home that prohibited visits through the pandemic.
Ms. Dixon, who has the delivery of somebody comfortable in front of an audience, has generated criticism for spreading unfounded claims about voter fraud within the 2020 election and for a few of her stances on L.G.B.T.Q. issues, including calling for “severe criminal penalties for adults who involve children in drag shows.”
On her website, she calls for a ban to forestall school employees from talking to children in kindergarten through third grade “about sex and gender theory secretly behind their parents’ backs.” And he or she has said that abortion needs to be allowed only whether it is essential to avoid wasting the lifetime of a mother, not in cases of rape or incest.
Ms. Dixon’s stance on abortion particularly — in a state where voters are likely to favor abortion rights and in November will weigh a ballot measure to enshrine the correct to abortion within the state Structure — is an enormous reason that some Republicans are frightened about her probabilities. In addition they fear that underperformance at the highest of the ballot could cause the G.O.P. to lose control of the State Legislature.
Michigan’s Republican Party has been in a state of turmoil for months.
The party’s primary was defined by fierce infighting between its establishment and Trump factions. Its two front-runners for governor were disqualified for turning in petitions with 1000’s of forged signatures. One other candidate was charged with 4 misdemeanors related to the Capitol riot.
Ms. Dixon managed to rally her fractious party behind her within the race’s final weeks. But even after winning the first, she remained a comparatively little-known political outsider. It didn’t help that on the G.O.P. state convention later in August, Republicans officially endorsed two preachers of 2020 election falsehoods for top state offices: Matthew DePerno for attorney general and Kristina Karamo for secretary of state.
The bruising battles, in addition to the dearth of monetary networks and campaign experience amongst leading Republican candidates, have made for what Richard Czuba, an independent pollster in Lansing, Mich., called “the worst ticket I actually have seen from any party within the last 40 years.”
“It’s great to run as an outsider, especially while you run against an incumbent,” Mr. Czuba said. “But there are two sides of that outsider coin. On the one hand, you may run because the outsider against the establishment. On the flip side, you don’t know how you can do that — and that’s what is showing.”
As the final election began, Democrats rushed to define Ms. Dixon before she had a likelihood to define herself. As Ms. Whitmer had kept $14 million in her war chest by late August, after accounting for debts and expenditures, Ms. Dixon’s end balance was $523,000, based on the state’s latest available campaign finance reports. Democratic groups have poured greater than $41 million into television ads for the reason that August primary, based on the firm AdImpact, which analyzes campaign ad spending. Republican groups, in contrast, have invested about $5.5 million.
State party leaders and national Republicans this week pushed back against any notion that the race was out of reach and that Ms. Dixon had been left to fend for herself. This past week, the Michigan Republican Party began its largest ad push against Ms. Whitmer, searching for to color her as “soft on crime.” Chris Gustafson, a spokesman for the Republican Governors Association, said it may additionally jump in with more ads soon.
“In Michigan historically, we’ve seen candidates in big races be down within the polls only to come back back to win,” Mr. Gustafson said. “We feel Tudor is a powerful candidate with an excellent message. She is inside striking distance.”
At Ms. Dixon’s event on the athletic club in Oakland County, a panel including former Trump administration officials sat against the tall glass partitions of a serene, sunlit indoor pool, as they blasted Mr. Biden’s economic policies and painted a harrowing picture of crime-filled American cities and unchecked immigration on the southwestern border.
In a brief speech, Ms. Dixon slammed what she characterised as a “radical sex and gender theory” permeating schools and denounced Ms. Whitmer for providing tax incentives to bring a Chinese company to Michigan, somewhat than an American one.
But mostly, she displayed a rare dose of moderation, critiquing Mr. Whitmer’s pandemic restrictions and economic policies, rising crime within the state’s cities, and schools that Ms. Dixon argued had didn’t adequately teach students to read and write. They were the sorts of remarks that some establishment and moderate Republicans could be hoping for — and in addition they looked as if it would appease the people within the room.
Susan Savich, 64, and her 24-year-old son, Jonathan, asked to take photos with Ms. Dixon on her way out. They were opposed to colleges teaching children anything but basic skills and traditional beliefs, they said, and Mr. Savich liked that Ms. Dixon was “education first.”
They were also relieved to listen to that Mr. Trump was coming to the state. “Ms. Dixon goes up against loads,” Mr. Savich said.