Devin Scillian: Biggest takeaways from final Whitmer, Dixon debate

Final debate of 2022 governor’s race held

Gretchen Whitmer (left) and Tudor Dixon (right) debate at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2022. (Robin Buckson/Detroit News via AP, Pool) ((Robin Buckson/Detroit News via AP, Pool))

The second (and final) debate between Governor Whitmer and Tudor Dixon lands a little late for full impact just two weeks before election day;  plenty of voters have already cast their ballots in a massive return of absentee votes.  But that doesn’t lessen the intrigue of this matchup given the tightening of the race.

I was fairly certain we would see a more aggressive Gretchen Whitmer after Tudor Dixon seemed to surprise many with her first debate performance (and I would include the Governor in that group).  And even Dixon noted early on that Whitmer was bringing a little more heat.

As in the first go-round, Dixon had some very good moments.  I was a little stunned that as Dixon went after Whitmer for not supporting Line 5 in the Mackinac Straits, Whitmer tried to make a virtue of the fact that she had thus far not been able to shut down the project.  I’m not sure you can have it both ways and Dixon was pretty sure she couldn’t either.  She also got the last word on the no fault insurance debate.  After Whitmer chastised Dixon for not understanding that the Governor does not control the catastrophic claims fund, Dixon pointed to Whitmer’s commercials which claim that she gave Michiganders $400 insurance refunds.

But Dixon seemed to walk right into one of the evening’s strongest moments for Whitmer. As they discussed school safety, after Dixon spelled out her prescription, Whitmer jumped all over it as being exactly what was in place at the latest school shooting in St. Louis.  Then, as they delved into the debate over books in school libraries, she was ready with a zinger:  “Do you really think books are more dangerous than guns?”  Dixon stared straight ahead, not quite ready for that one.  I don’t mind a rehearsed line if it’s a good one and well-placed, and that was both.

And while I’ve mentioned this before, I remain frustrated at a lack of specificity on Dixon’s plans.  We never seem to get an answer on how she would have handled the pandemic.  Ditto on a budget.  You’d hope we would get more than, “I’m not Gretchen.”  Of course, that will work with many voters who see a second term election as purely a referendum on the incumbent.

Noteworthy – both candidates promised not to require children to get the COVID vaccine as a requirement for school attendance.

Overall, I found it a pretty good give and take.  But I again find myself wondering how many votes are actually in play, how many were being decided by tonight’s debate.  Any?  It seems crazy to think someone is really struggling with which woman should get their vote when these two can’t find much common ground at all.  (When asked to find anything nice to say about the other, they both resorted to talking about the challenges of motherhood.  Add their commitment on COVID vaccines for kids, and that’s pretty much it.)  When I see “undecided” in the recent polls, I wonder if it means undecided about voting at all.  Turnout is what will decide this election.  We know it will be massive, but which side is more motivated?  Is it Whitmer or Dixon with the more committed supporters?

One other quick thought.  It’s been really interesting (and encouraging) to me how little has been made of the fact that for the first time, two women are running for the state’s highest office.  That it doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal feels like real progress to me.

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.