CLARKSTON, Michigan — As she runs to lead a closely divided swing state, Tudor Dixon pursues a dangerous strategy in the Michigan governor’s race: to embrace Donald J. Trump and, at times, imitate his rampant political style.
She recently walked the campaign trail with the former president’s son, Donald Trump Jr. and Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s former White House adviser — and made headlines in Trumpian fashion for mocking her Democratic opponent, Governor Gretchen Whitmer, over a 2020 kidnapping plan hatched against her by right-wing militiamen.
In other appearances, Ms. Dixon called for a ban on transgender girls playing in girls’ and women’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 was promoting his so-called America First corporate policy.
“‘America First’ – Michigan First – will bring Michigan back together,” she said.
The governor’s race between Ms. Dixon and Ms. Whitmer has a high stakes for abortion rights, schools, and the future of elections. It’s historic – the first time two women have ever competed for position in the state.
The contest also serves as a test of whether Ms. Dixon and other Republican candidates can win their general elections by tapping into the grassroots energy of Trump supporters that propelled them to the top of crowded and chaotic primaries. That approach — closely linked to Trump’s election denial and other political baggage — worries some Michigan Republicans who believe Ms. Dixon is failing to win over the kind of suburban and independent voters that are crucial in tight races.
But it may be the only option she has. The early voting began on Thursday, and now that time is running out, Ms. Dixon is short of cash. far behind in pollswho is still working to bolster support among its Republican base and is being thrashed by Democrats on television.
“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 to go, for her to make up for the kind of terrain she needs.”
Ms. Dixon, who will appear with Mr. Trump at a Saturday meeting in Macomb County, seemed unfazed, arguing that her recent fundraising numbers have been high and that her message will ultimately resonate with voters more than Ms. Dixon. from Whitmers.
When asked about the campaign challenges and Democrats’ big spending, Sara Broadwater, Ms. Dixon’s communications director, took shots at pollsters and said they didn’t predict Trump’s 2016 victory.
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Now that the primaries are over, both parties are turning their attention to the general election on November 8.
“As Tudor said recently in response to a similar question, ‘Isn’t it sad that the Democrats have to spend so much money?'” said Ms. Broadwater. Gretchen Whitmer remains very vulnerable as pro-Dixon forces begin to return fire and her campaign gains momentum.
Not all Republicans closely aligned with Mr. Trump have struggled to move from the primaries to the general. In Arizona, Republican nominee for governor, Kari Lake, has taken a similar approach and has her race to… a dead heat — but unlike Ms. Dixon, she doesn’t face a sitting governor like Ms. Whitmer.
Other candidates backed by Mr. Trump, such as Blake Masters in the Arizona Senate race and Doug Mastriano in the run for Pennsylvania governor, have fallen behind their Democratic opponents as they struggled to raise funds. Another Republican Senate hopeful, JD Vance, faces a closer-than-expected race in Ohio.
Mr Trump has maintained a keen interest in Michigan. He took a state win in 2016 by less than 11,000 votes before losing to Joseph R. Biden Jr in 2020 by more than 154,000 votes.
Days before the Republican primary in early August, Mr. Trump backed Ms. Dixon, a conservative media personality backed by the powerful DeVos family of Michigan.
Ms. Dixon, 45, a breast cancer survivor, worked as a steel industry executive until 2017, when she helped set up Lumen Student News, a company that produces conservative TV news and history lessons for middle and high school students.
In a radio interview in December 2021, she said she wanted to restore students’ confidence in the country and fight what she described as “indoctrination” in schools. After helping Lumen find her, Ms. Dixon hosted a news show, “America’s Voice Live,” on weekday afternoons.
On the stump, Ms. Dixon says she became an outspoken critic of Ms. Whitmer’s coronavirus restrictions as she witnessed their negative impact on Michigan’s economy. The security measures “took a very personal turn,” Ms. Dixon’s website states, after her grandmother died at a Norton Shores nursing home that banned visits during the pandemic.
Ms. Dixon, who has gotten the delivery of someone comfortable in front of an audience, has generated criticism for spreading baseless claims about voter fraud in the 2020 election and for some of her stances on LGBTQ issuesincluding calling for “severe criminal penalties for adults who involve children in drag shows.”
On her website, she calls for a ban to prevent school workers from talking to children in kindergarten through third grade “about sex and gender theory secretly behind their parents’ backs.” And she has said that abortion should only be allowed if it is necessary to save a mother’s lifenot in the case of rape or incest.
In particular, Ms. Dixon’s stance on abortion — in a state where voters favor abortion rights and will weigh a November ballot to enshrine the right to abortion in the state constitution — is a big reason some Republicans are concerned about her chances. . They also fear that underperformance at the top of the ballot could cause the GOP to lose control of the state legislature.
Michigan’s Republican Party has been in a state of turmoil for months.
The party’s primaries were defined by fierce power struggles between the founding and the Trump factions. The two frontrunners for governor were disqualified for submitting petitions containing thousands of forged signatures. Another candidate was charged with four felonies related to the Capitol riots.
Ms. Dixon managed to get her rough part behind her in the closing weeks of the race. But even after winning the primary, she remained a relatively little-known political outsider. It didn’t help that Republicans at the GOP state convention later in August officially endorsed two preachers of 2020 election abuses for top state offices: Matthew DePerno for Attorney General and Kristina Karamo for Secretary of State.
The blood-curdling battles, as well as the lack of financial networks and campaign experience among leading Republican candidates, have led to what Richard Czuba, an independent pollster in Lansing, Michigan, called “the worst ticket I’ve seen from a party in the past 40 years.” .”
“It’s great to run as an outsider, especially when you’re up against a seated party,” said Mr. czuba. “But there are two sides of an outsider’s coin. On the one hand, you can run against the establishment as an outsider. On the other hand, you don’t know how to do this – and that’s what shows up.”
When the general election began, Democrats rushed to define Ms. Dixon before she had a chance to define herself. As Mrs Whitmer had loved $14 million at the end of August in her war chest, after taking into account debts and expenses, Mrs. Dixon’s closing balance was $523,000, according to the latest available campaign finance reports from the state. According to AdImpact, which analyzes campaign ad spend, Democratic groups have invested more than $41 million in television ads since the August primary. Republican groups, on the other hand, have invested about $5.5 million.
Leaders of state parties and national Republicans this week opposed any idea that the race was out of reach and that Ms. Dixon had been left to her own devices. Last week, the Michigan Republican Party kicked off its biggest ad campaign against Ms. Whitmer, looking for painting her as ‘soft on crime’. Chris Gustafson, a spokesman for the Republican Association of Governors, said it could come out with more ads soon, too.
“In Michigan, historically, we have seen candidates in major races in the polls to come back to win,” said Mr. Gustafson. “We think Tudor is a strong candidate with a good message. She is within reach.”
At Mrs. Dixon’s event at the Oakland County athletics club, a panel of former Trump administration officials sat against the high glass walls of a serene, sun-drenched indoor pool, rejecting Mr. Biden’s economic policies and painting a harrowing picture of crime. filled American cities and uncontrolled immigration on the southwestern border.
In a short speech, Ms. Dixon criticized what she characterized as a “radical sex and gender theory” permeating schools and denounced Ms. Whitmer for providing tax incentives to bring a Chinese company to Michigan, rather than an American one.
But most of the time, she showed a rare dose of moderation, criticizing Mr. Whitmer’s pandemic restrictions and economic policies, increasing crime in the state’s cities, and schools that Ms. Dixon claimed had not adequately taught students to read. and writing. They were the sort of comments established and moderate Republicans might have hoped for—and they seemed to appease the people in the room, too.
Susan Savich, 64, and her 24-year-old son, Jonathan, asked to take pictures with Ms. Dixon on their way out. They opposed schools that taught children anything other than basic skills and traditional beliefs, they said, and Mr. Savich liked that Ms. Dixon was “education first.”
They were also relieved to learn that Mr. Trump was coming to the state. “Ma’am. Dixon is going through a lot,” said Mr. Savich.