Michigan Republicans are failing miserably to mount an effective challenge to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who is up for reelection in November. The disarray has practically laid a red carpet up to the Michigan governor’s mansion for Whitmer to prance down and prepare a bid to beat out the elderly and embattled President Joe Biden in 2024.
First came the news that five Republican candidates, including the longtime front-runner, former Detroit Chief of Police James Craig, were excluded from the primary ballot after their petition signatures were discovered to be rife with fraud.
Then the leader in the polls after the signature scandal, real estate agent and former “YouTube entertainment personality” Ryan Kelley, who made election integrity a central part of his campaign, was slammed with four misdemeanor charges for his alleged conduct during the Jan. 6 riot. The FBI said he was photographed ripping a cover off of scaffolding on the Capitol building. He rose even higher in the polls after his arrest. Kelley’s misdemeanor charges might make him noble among Republican diehards, but they would surely consign him to failure in a purple-state general election matchup.
According to a poll released Monday by Mitchell Research, there’s a new leader in the race: Tudor Dixon, a media personality since 2019 for a small conservative outlet, Real America’s Voice. The 44-year-old, who previously worked in steel sales, has very little political experience. And yet she has now garnered 26 percent support in the primary race — as well as endorsements from the powerful Michigan Chamber of Commerce and Michigan Right to Life. In endorsing Dixon, the center-right Detroit News wrote that her resume is “admittedly thin” and gave the caveat that there is no easy choice because the race is in disarray.
Even if Dixon pulls out the win and displays incredible political aptitude for someone with her inexperience, the chaotic race has left her with low name ID. In a May 27 poll by Target Insyght comparing her to Whitmer, Dixon had 21 percent support while Whitmer had 58 percent support. Compare that to a January poll taken before the race went downhill, which found that Craig and Whitmer were tied at 46 percent support each.
With the Republican race only spinning out scandals, criminal charges, and unknown candidates, Whitmer is laughing from the sidelines. She will be much less encumbered by the drudgery typical of the Michigan gubernatorial campaign trail — including raising up a large war chest; traveling across the largest state east of the Mississippi, where a drive from Monroe to Ironwood will set you back 10 hours; and replacing governing with a slew of campaign events. Whitmer likely expects minimal time and effort will nab her reelection.
If the GOP had it together, Whitmer might be in for the fight of her life to save her governorship, with Biden having a shockingly low approval rating of 36 percent in Michigan, according to a May poll, and voters angered by inflation, which is costing them $300 a month on average. Still, Whitmer’s approval rating stands much higher than Biden’s at 49 percent.
Fresh-faced and 50 years old, Whitmer comes from the ideal state for a presidential election: a Rust Belt bellwether. After getting passed over for the vice-presidential nod in 2020 (some rumors say Biden wanted to choose Whitmer, as he meshed with her personally, but his advisers and liberal activists pressured him to pick a black woman), Whitmer could be out for revenge. She could seize on the Democratic Party’s growing desire to choose a candidate for 2024 other than the confused, weak, and unpopular Biden and possibly beat Vice President Kamala Harris, who has a low approval rating for the presidential bid.
Whitmer emerged as a Democratic darling during the COVID-19 pandemic, shutting down her state to the point that residents were barred from visiting their second homes and paint sections of grocery stores were roped off. (Her orders were later ruled to be unconstitutional.) Whitmer was on a mission to outpace the likes of California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s lockdown orders and, in the process, develop her own star power. Conservatives were of course less enamored by her orders. She was branded in one article in The American Spectator in April 2020, the height of her COVID surveillance state, as the “worst governor in America.”
Whitmer cannily bent the knee to the Black Lives Matter protests, joining the marches after spending the previous few months blasting people who protested her COVID lockdown as endangering public health.
In recent weeks, Whitmer has become a full-time abortion activist, appearing on endless TV interviews to decry the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade and to pledge to protect a right to abortion in Michigan. She even floated to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra the idea of setting up abortion clinics in Windsor, Ontario, just next to the U.S. border.
She also used her executive power to ask the Michigan Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of Michigan’s 1931 law outlawing abortion. Thanks to the court’s liberal makeup, it is likely that the law will be ruled unconstitutional.
Whitmer landed a splashy Washington Post profile for her efforts on abortion over the weekend, complete with candid shots of her and her daughters gazing worriedly off into the distance over Lake Huron.
The fawning article finds itself enamored with the idea that Whitmer, a woman, stands up to male Republican legislators who are supposedly deeply triggered that an “attractive woman” is wielding power against them. (“Whitmer is a woman, but she is also an attractive woman, and her use of executive power, when wielded broadly, seems to deeply trigger her male antagonists.”) Whitmer, the Post writes, “is an exasperating political rival in the Republican-controlled legislature, particularly among men.”
Unsaid in the article but heard loudly is that Whitmer is a possible savior to the calamity that is the Biden–Harris administration.
Newsom has been flaunted by the press in recent weeks as one possibility if Kamala’s dismal poll numbers push her out of the race. Forgotten about has been Whitmer, perhaps because she has recreated herself as an abortion activist at a time when Biden is at his most vulnerable.
But if Whitmer takes a break from her abortion obsessions and focuses on continuing to raise her profile as an inspirational and competent governor from a purple state who can ride in and rescue the Democrats from the floundering Biden and Harris, she may well have a shot at winning the nod for 2024.
That’s due in no small part to the fact that she can focus all her efforts on 2024 rather than a competitive gubernatorial election.