Whitmer’s victory keeps a Democrat in charge of a state that both parties believe is critical to their strategy for winning the White House in 2024, while offering some insights into the kinds of issue positions ― and kinds of candidates ― that appeal to swing voters.
But the biggest consequences of Whitmer’s victory are for the roughly 10 million people who call Michigan home, because of the dramatic differences between her and her Republican opponent, Tudor Dixon, and the two very different ways they were likely to govern.
Dixon is a former actress, business manager and right-wing commentator who has said she thought Donald Trump was the real winner of the 2020 election.
She spent much of her campaign attacking Whitmer’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, arguing that closures of businesses were bad for the economy and closures of schools were bad for kids.
Later in the campaign, Dixon promoted herself as a defender of “parents’ rights,” arguing that Whitmer was supporting “radical sex and gender activists” who, Dixon said, were exposing public school children to explicit material.
Whitmer is a center-left Democrat who spent a decade-and-a-half in the state legislature before becoming governor in 2018. Her first-term accomplishments included a bipartisan initiative that made community college effectively free and a bond measure to finance highway reconstruction, in keeping with her signature promise to “fix the damn roads.”
In the campaign, Whitmer promised more of the same in a second term. She also defended her pandemic actions as necessary to save lives, despite vitriolic political attacks from Trump and his allies.
But the biggest contrast was on reproductive rights, a major issue in Michigan because of a 1931 state law that prohibits abortion in nearly all cases ― and that conservative officials were pledging to enforce once the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade.
Dixon said she supports the 1931 law, arguing at one point that the experience of carrying a baby in cases of rape or incest can promote “healing.” Whitmer is a longtime defender of abortion rights who spoke frequently about her experience as a rape victim in college, and what it would have meant if she had become pregnant.
Whitmer developed a national profile as governor, especially after the FBI arrested a group of extremists who were plotting to kidnap her. She was also on the list of Democrats who President Joe Biden considered as a running mate in 2020.
Now that Whitmer has won reelection, by defeating a Trump-backed Republican in a key swing state, Whitmer is likely to get even more attention as a potential candidate for higher office, whenever Democrats need one again.