Dixon wins Michigan GOP governor primary, to face Whitmer

Businesswoman and conservative commentator Tudor Dixon won the Republican primary for Michigan governor on Tuesday, setting up a tough general election race against Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Dixon defeated four male candidates in a race between little-known Republicans. She was endorsed by former President Donald Trump and the prominent Michigan Republican family of former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, as well as the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and several anti-abortion organizations.

The mother of four made education a top issue of her campaign, saying she wants to keep drag queens and talk of sex and gender out of elementary schools. She opposes abortion, except to save the life of the mother, and says Michigan should eliminate the requirement for permits to carry concealed weapons.

Dixon is a former steel industry executive who also hosted a conservative program on a streaming channel and once acted in low-budget zombie movies in what her campaign described as an “admittedly lame” hobby. She also has backing from the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, several anti-abortion groups, and the prominent Michigan Republican family of Betsy DeVos, who was education secretary in Trump’s Cabinet but was critical of him and resigned after the Jan. 6, 2021, riot.

Trump’s endorsement drew new criticism from other candidates, who have blasted Dixon as the “establishment” pick. They include real estate broker Ryan Kelley, who pleaded not guilty to misdemeanors in the Capitol riot; chiropractor Garrett Soldano; and former auto dealership owner Kevin Rinke. Pastor Ralph Rebandt also is running.

In a Facebook video, Soldano called Dixon a “vulnerable RINO,” an acronym for Republican in name only. He predicted he will win with the help of a “grassroots army” that came together when Soldano organized protests against Whitmer’s COVID-19 restrictions.

“We will not vanish without a fight. This is our party. This is our state. This is our country,” Soldano said.

Voter Mark Orsinger of Grand Rapids said he decided to cast his ballot for Dixon after 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.”

Contentious primaries are not new, but the hostility seems heightened in some places this year as Republicans split over whether to relitigate the 2020 election or look ahead, including to the 2024 presidential race. The divide has been particularly public and pronounced in Michigan, where Trump has pushed the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him and has endorsed many candidates who back him — including for secretary of state and attorney general — with an eye on a possible 2024 bid.

Michigan is also among states where subpoenas have been issued to “fake electors” who submitted paperwork saying Trump, not Joe Biden, won the state’s 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 upheld that.

Yet all of the GOP governor candidates had said there was fraud in 2020, and all but Rinke said they believe the election was stolen from Trump. In a recent debate, Soldano said Trump is “still my president.”

Dixon raised her hand during a debate when candidates were asked who among them believes the election was stolen. She has been less explicit in recent weeks, criticizing Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and saying on Fox News Sunday, “We have to make sure our elections are secure and what happened in 2020 doesn’t happen again.”

Restrictions Whitmer put in place to fight COVID-19 were a factor for all of the candidates in deciding to join the race. Kelley organized rallies against the governor, including one where armed paramilitary groups entered the Michigan Statehouse.

Trump’s late-stage endorsement of Dixon could give him a win to tout, though he also has experienced some high-profile defeats.