Devin Scillian: My takeaways from first debate between Whitmer, Dixon

First debate of 2022 governor’s race held in Grand Rapids

Democratic incumbent Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (left) and her 2022 Republican opponent Tudor Dixon (right) (WDIV)

It feels like it took far too long to arrive at the first gubernatorial debate of this campaign.  Then again, maybe I should just be happy that we got a debate at all (with a second one still to come).

It was, as I expected, a chippy affair. That generally happens when one candidate is trailing by a wide margin and realizes the need to throw haymakers. 

Neck-and-neck races often give us candidates doing whatever they can not to lose; Tudor Dixon, trailing by double digits, came in ready to rumble and pretty much forced the Governor to respond in kind.  But I lament the popular modern strategy of spending more time on your opponent’s positions (often misrepresented) than on your own plans and priorities. 

In particular, I’m still waiting for Dixon to outline exactly what she would have done in the early stages of the COVID pandemic.  (It was quite noteworthy that the Governor admitted that in hindsight there are things she would have done differently.) 

It was an evening of talking points on parade. That, too, is a marker of modern political battle. 

Both candidates had some punches that landed with zing. Dixon was quick to point out the Governor’s push for a 45-cent gas tax increase seems rather insane now. And when Dixon said she’d follow the will of the people on abortion, Whitmer was ready by pointing out Dixon’s inability to accept the will of the people in the 2020 election.

The flow of topics was likely to Dixon’s liking, methinks.  The abortion question (which has clearly been trouble for her) was dispensed with early – and then we got quite a few questions that wrapped around the topic that many feel is replacing abortion at the top of voters’ concerns and that’s inflation and the economy. 

Dixon would no doubt prefer the election be fought on that turf.  But here again, I’m a little lost on what her exact proposals are.  Maybe for voters, it’s enough. 

Negativity rules our social discourse these days and there’s a reason why most political ads lean negative rather than positive.  (As my political mentor once taught me, there are only three situations in which negative campaigning works – when you’re behind, when you’re ahead, and when you’re even.)

There were two things that I expected to happen in the debate that actually didn’t.  I thought sure Dixon would spend a lot of time linking Whitmer to President Biden.  (His approval ratings are quite a bit lower than hers.)  And I expected the Governor to spend more time hammering her opponent’s complete lack of political experience. 

But all in all, while a spirited affair, it didn’t feel that either side inflicted any heavy damage.  Conventional wisdom would suggest that a tie is a win for the frontrunner.

Then again, most of my politically astute friends are finding less and less comfort in conventional wisdom.

On we go.

About the Author:

Devin Scillian is equally at home on your television, on your bookshelf, and on your stereo. Devin anchors the evening newscasts for Local 4. Additionally, he moderates Flashpoint, Local 4's Sunday morning news program. He is also a best-selling author of children's books, and an award-winning musician and songwriter.