GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Tudor Dixon won Michigan’s Republican gubernatorial nomination, NBC News’ drafts, emerging from one of the busiest primaries of the year in a state where the general election will have major implications for the upcoming presidential race.
The former conservative media personality, who earned a approval last week of former President Donald Trump, will face Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who was reappointed unopposed on Tuesday.
Early results put Dixon ahead of four rivals, including chiropractor Garrett Soldano; Kevin Rinke, a former Detroit-area auto dealer who loaned his campaign $10 million; and Ryan Kelley, a real estate broker and right-wing activist who was briefly a precursor following his arrest for misdemeanor involvement in the insurgency at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Dixon, speaking to supporters at a hotel in downtown Grand Rapids, took precise aim at Whitmer. She repeatedly criticized the governor’s lockdown orders during the early days of Covid while pressing her own “family-friendly” agenda.
“We now have the opportunity to really hold Gretchen Whitmer accountable for the pain she has inflicted on all of us over the past four years,” Dixon said.
In an emailed statement after the race was called, Whitmer’s campaign spokeswoman Maeve Coyle said Dixon would “roll Michigan back.”
“While Dixon has focused her campaign on gaining support from special interests and political insiders, Governor Whitmer has worked hard to win the support of Michiganders by doing what she has always done: working with n anyone to get things done,” Coyle added.
Dixon’s victory is in part a testament to the power of the DeVos family, kingmakers in Michigan politics who endorsed her and helped fund an aligned super PAC. And his victory gives Trump another ally within reach of a governorship and the power to certify election results.
Trump continues to falsely claim a second term was stolen from him in 2020 and teases another run in 2024. debatesDixon replied affirmatively when asked if she believed Trump had won Michigan, which narrowly went to President Joe Biden. She also embraced debunked theories that fraud and untoward efforts by Democratic office holders swayed Biden’s election.
But Dixon’s rhetoric has been less consistent and forceful than claims echoed by other Trump allies in Michigan and across the country. In the final days of the race, his opponents questioned his loyalty to the former president, grabbing a “Fox News Sunday” Interview in which Dixon dodged when asked if she believed the 2020 election was stolen.
After voting Tuesday morning near her home in western Michigan, Dixon also dodged a reporter’s request to clarify her position.
“You know what? Today, I think that’s not an appropriate question,” Dixon replied, adding that she was focusing on her own election. “We’ve answered that multiple times.”
Dixon thanked each of his opponents by name on Tuesday night.
“I want to thank them,” she said, “for giving of themselves in this effort to improve this state.”
Dixon has national support for his attempt to unseat Whitmer. The Republican Governors Association, which has cautiously approached other GOP candidates this year, was quick to praise her.
“We couldn’t be more excited to support Tudor Dixon this fall to end Whitmer’s disastrous tenure,” said the group’s co-chairs, Governors. Arizona’s Doug Ducey and Nebraska’s Pete Ricketts said in an emailed statement.
In a year when messy GOP primaries have hardly been unusualMichigan offered more mayhem than most – a crowded field of negationistsrich businessmen throwing their money everywhere, a scandal over petition signaturescontestant arrested Jan. 6 (Kelley pleaded not guilty), seven-figure ad effort by National Democrats to slow Dixon’s momentum and a late Trump endorsement that divided the party.
Dixon appeared to be on track to land the nomination before Trump even stepped in. After entering the race as an unknown political quantity with low poll numbers and little money, it capitalized on the missteps of better-placed rivals.
His opponents — even before, but especially after, his evasive Fox News interview — had argued that DeVos’ endorsement would make Dixon beholden to the establishment and, in the case of former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, to a Trump renegade who resigned from his cabinet. after blaming him for the deadly violence on January 6. The DeVos-funded super PAC gave Dixon aerial coverage, spending more than $2.5 million on ads, according to ad tracking firm AdImpact. Dixon only spent $118,000.
Rinke has invested over a million dollars The advertisement which linked Dixon to DeVos and other GOP figures portrayed as RINOs or Republicans in name only. Soldano, who has built a devoted base protesting Whitmer’s Covid policies, has regularly attacked bosses at the Dixon establishment during debates.
GOP infighting and nastiness could escalate in the fall. Soldano, in a Sunday interview with NBC News after a campaign event in Warren, said he would support Dixon if she won the primary, but would do little to activate his staunch supporters for anyone else. than himself.
“It’s definitely fractured right now,” Soldano said of the party.
Despite efforts to portray her as an insufficiently conservative instrument of the establishment, Dixon projects a tough stance against abortion which Democrats seized on to portray her as an extremist. (Dixon favors exceptions only when the mother’s life is in danger.) She favors phasing out state personal income tax and frequently speaks of “parental rights” in education — a front of the culture wars embraced by GOP candidates nationwide amid battles over whether to teach students about racism and sexual orientation. She also attacked the use of gender-neutral language as part of a “war on women”.
Dixon, Trump told listeners of a brief telephone “rally” he hosted for her on Monday night, “has been on the front lines of the battle against the indoctrination of our children by the left.”
In a statement, Lavora Barnes, chairwoman of the Michigan Democratic Party, vowed to “continue to hold Dixon accountable for his disastrous plans and baseless conspiracy theories.”
Few would have predicted Dixon’s rise. Prior to entering conservative media, she had worked as an actress on several low-budget films and for her family’s steel company.
Whitmer, a rising national star and frequent object of Trump’s ire, thought he was attracting a strong opponent. Prospects with much more familiar names, including two-time Senate nominee John James and Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, were touted as possibilities but remained out of the running. The GOP establishment, seeing no stars among Dixon and the other declared candidates, responded enthusiastically when James Craig retired as Detroit Police Chief to start a run last year.
Dixon had a few advantages going for her, though. She had hosted shows on The True Voice of Americathe network that also carries former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s right-wing talk show, and made friends in the orbit of the former president. But it wasn’t until other campaigns imploded that his fortunes began to improve. Craig and another prominent candidate, self-funded businessman Perry Johnson, were disqualified for submitting allegedly fraudulent petition signatures.
Around this time, the DeVos made their preference for Dixon known. Eventually, the ads placed by the super PAC they sponsored quickly began to take hold, propelling Dixon to the top of the polls.
“I’m tough, my friends,” Dixon said as she finished her victory speech on Tuesday night. And I’m just getting started.”