Gretchen Whitmer wins a second term as Michigan governor, defeating Tudor Dixon

Paul Egan
Detroit Free Press

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer defeated Republican challenger Tudor Dixon in a hard-fought battle for a second four-year term.

Whitmer, a Democratic attorney and former state lawmaker from East Lansing, was leading Dixon, a Norton Shores businesswoman and former TV commentator, 54.5% to 43.9%, with about 91% of the statewide vote counted in an unofficial tally at 1:59 p.m. Wednesday. The Associated Press called the race for Whitmer at about 1:20 a.m.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II take the stage to speak to a crowd while celebrating her re-election during the Michigan Democratic watch party for the midterm elections at the Motor City Casino Sound Board in Detroit in the early morning on Wed., Nov. 9, 2022.

The historic race featured two women at the top of the Democratic and Republican state tickets for the first time in Michigan.

Whitmer, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II and their families came on stage at the Democratic party at Motor City Casino in Detroit at about 1 a.m., not long before AP declared her the winner, and stopped just short of declaring victory in the gubernatorial race.

More:Whitmer pledges to 'step on the accelerator' after stunning Democratic wins

"We are waiting for some final numbers … but we are feeling damn good," Whitmer told the cheering crowd.

She said she would hold a news conference Wednesday morning. Whitmer's campaign issued a statement thanking voters for giving her a mandate for her and Gilchrist to "continue building on their historic progress investing in public education, strengthening infrastructure, fixing the damn roads, growing the economy, and defending reproductive freedom."

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II take the stage to speak to a crowd while celebrating her re-election during the Michigan Democratic watch party for the midterm elections at the Motor City Casino Sound Board in Detroit in the early morning on Wed., Nov. 9, 2022.

Fox News was first to call the race for Whitmer Tuesday night, and President Joe Biden called Whitmer to congratulate her.

Dixon was not ready to concede in a speech she gave near midnight.

"This race is going to be too close to call, despite what Fox (News) thinks," Dixon told a crowd of supporters at the JW Marriott Hotel in downtown Grand Rapids. Dixon said the campaign was staying up all night to watch remaining votes come in.

Whitmer spent her first four years as governor with Republicans controlling the state House and Senate. Party control of those chambers for the session that begins in January was not clear early Wednesday.

Republican candidate for Michigan Gov. Tudor Dixon addresses a crowd of supporters as they await final results Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022, in Grand Rapids.

From a financial perspective, the election was a mismatch. Whitmer's campaign raised many millions more than Dixon's did, and also had a significant edge in third-party spending on TV ads, much of it by entities connected to the Democratic Governors Association.

Those ads, which hit the airwaves early and never ceased, sought to define Dixon as too extreme on the central issue of abortion rights, highlighting Dixon's support of an abortion ban that makes no exceptions for rape, incest, or the health of the pregnant person and her description of a 1931 Michigan statute that criminalizes most abortions — temporarily on hold due to a court order — as a "good law."

More:Michigan's race for governor: How Whitmer, Dixon have managed art of the pivot

Dixon, who said the only abortions she would condone are ones to save the life — not the health — of the pregnant person, sought to downplay the significance of abortion in the governor's race. She argued that voters who support abortion rights could do so through the Proposal 3 constitutional amendment on Tuesday's ballot and still choose her over Whitmer.

Dixon said Whitmer mishandled the COVID-19 pandemic. Her campaign focused on education, business policies and public safety. She highlighted poor and worsening test scores for K-12 students she said were kept out of classrooms too long and claimed Michigan teachers were indoctrinating students with liberal views while neglecting the basics of education and supporting some students' gender transitions while hiding that information from parents. Dixon promised fewer business regulations, a gradual phaseout of the personal income tax, and a $1 billion spending plan to recruit and retain police officers.

"I think it's time to take our state back," Dixon said to applause at a recent campaign event in Saginaw.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon talks with journalists after voting with her four daughters at Norton Shores Fire Department Station 3 on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022.

Pat Roberts, a Saginaw Township electronics technician who attended the rally, said abortion is a major reason he wants a Republican governor.

"She's pro-life," Roberts said of Dixon. It's energizing "to see somebody like that who knows that life begins in the womb, that God created that life, and that your taking that life is murder."

Whitmer, in addition to highlighting her role in protecting abortion rights after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, touted her record over the last four years. Describing herself as a pragmatic problem solver who signed more than 800 bipartisan bills passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature, she cited state support for child care and skills training, incentives to attract billions of dollars in new investments and thousands of jobs related to the manufacturing of electric vehicles, and record funding for K-12 education that also eliminated a historic funding gap between Michigan school districts.

"We've really made good progress in this state — we can't afford to go back," Whitmer told supporters at a recent event in Mount Pleasant.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer claps as she enters a room filled with community and news media members during a political event in Detroit on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022.

Bob Frei, of Beaverton, a retired computer systems designer who attended the event, said Whitmer has shown she has the guts needed to lead the state.

"We have to make our own state the best there is, and then, if the rest want to catch up with us, they can," Frei said.

Whitmer came to national prominence during the pandemic as a critic of former President Donald Trump's approach to the crisis, becoming a frequent target of his attacks on the social media platform Twitter. Many celebrated her as "that woman from Michigan," playing off a Trump reference to her, but Whitmer's aggressive restrictions on businesses and schools early in the pandemic also earned her enemies and she was the target of a kidnapping plot that was headed off by federal and state authorities.

Rachel Vogel, 45, of Williamston, is an educator who came to the polls with her daughter Tuesday and was most concerned about the governor’s race and Proposal 3 to enshrine reproductive rights into the state constitution.

“We are hoping to continue with Governor Whitmer," Vogel said. "The decisions that were made throughout the pandemic and as an educator… I stand with her.”

Free Press staff writer Arpan Lobo and Politics Editor Emily Lawler contributed to this report.

Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or pegan@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @paulegan.