Dixon wins Michigan GOP governor primary to run against Whitmer

Businesswoman and conservative commentator Tudor Dixon won the Republican primary for Michigan governor on Tuesday, putting up an uphill race against Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as anger and division within the state’s GOP derailed the party’s efforts on the battlefield this fall threaten.

Dixon, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump last week, defeated four male candidates in a race between little-known political newcomers. She also had support from the prominent Michigan Republican family of Betsy DeVos, who was Secretary of Education in Trump’s cabinet but criticized him and resigned after the January 6, 2021 riot, as well as the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and several anti-abortion groups.

Dixon took to the stage at a victory party and vowed to fight for families who have been struggling through the COVID-19 lockdowns imposed by Whitmer and can’t afford to put gas in their vehicles and pay bills. She called the first-term governor “the queen of lockdowns” and told how her own grandmother died alone in a nursing home during the pandemic.

“Honestly, Michigan, we deserve better,” Dixon said. “Now is our chance to truly hold Gretchen Whitmer responsible for the pain she has caused each of us over the past four years.”

Whitmer, who had no Democratic opponent, was seen as potentially vulnerable heading into 2022 due to her anger over her pandemic restrictions, rising gas and food prices, and her ties to President Joe Biden, whose approval ratings are low. However, some of those hopes were dashed after the Republican frontrunners failed to vote because they did not submit enough valid nomination signatures and the remaining field struggled to compete with Whitmer and her multimillion-dollar campaign fund in fundraising. None of the GOP candidates had held public office, and many had baggage that could hurt in a general election.

Dixon is a former steel industry executive who also hosted a conservative program on a streaming channel and once starred in low-budget zombie films, which her campaign described as an “admittedly lame” hobby.

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Democrats have criticized their far-right positions on issues that could also be a hard sell for independent voters deciding Michigan elections. Dixon opposes abortion except to save the mother’s life and says Michigan should eliminate the requirement for concealed weapons licenses.

In a statement Tuesday, Michigan Democratic Party Chairwoman Lavora Barnes said Dixon has “a dangerous agenda that would destroy working-class families in Michigan.”

Dixon is Michigan’s first Republican nominee for governor. The matchup adds to what is already a record number of contests between two nominated women this cycle, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. Three — in Iowa, Oregon and Alabama — were lined up before Tuesday, down from a previous record of two. Arizona’s primary Tuesday should also result in an all-women race.

Dixon has campaigned as a mother of four with a strong focus on education, saying she wants to keep drag queens and talk about sex and gender out of elementary schools. She said she would end teaching “critical race theory” in Michigan public schools and wants all districts to post teaching materials and curriculum online for parents to review. Dixon also says families should be able to direct federal funds per student to private schools, home schooling, or other educational institutions of their choosing.

Dixon defeated real estate agent Ryan Kelley, who pleaded not guilty to offenses in the Capitol riot; chiropractor Garrett Soldano; former dealership owner Kevin Rinke and Pastor Ralph Rebandt.

They blasted Dixon as an “establishment” choice during the campaign, criticizing her ties to DeVos and saying she didn’t do enough to stand up to Whitmer when she imposed COVID-19 restrictions.

Controversial primaries aren’t new, but hostility appears to be heating up in some places this year, as Republicans are divided on whether to rerun the 2020 election or move ahead, including the 2024 presidential campaign. The divide has been particular public and outspoken in Michigan, where Trump has spread the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him and has endorsed many candidates who support him – also as Foreign Minister and Attorney General – with a view to a possible offer for 2024.

Michigan is also among the states that have issued subpoenas to “fake voters.” who filed filings stating that Trump, not Biden, won the state election.

Trump lost Michigan by about 154,000 votes in 2020, and multiple audits and courts — as well as an investigation by the Republican-led state Senate — have confirmed that.

Dixon has vacillated on this issue. She raised her hand during a debate when candidates were asked which of them think the election was stolen. But he has been less explicit in recent weeks, criticizing Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and telling Fox News on Sunday: “We need to make sure our elections are safe and what happened in 2020 doesn’t happen again.”

Trump’s late-stage endorsement of Dixon gives him a win, though he’s also suffered some high-profile losses.

Grand Rapids voter Mark Orsinger said he decided to cast his ballot for Dixon following Trump’s endorsement.

“I didn’t know Tudor until Trump mentioned her,” Orsinger said. “She seems like an OK person. I only know her from 20 seconds of a commercial.”

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Associated Press writers Joey Cappelletti in Grand Rapids and Mike Householder in Delhi Municipality contributed to this report.

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