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Whitmer, Dixon clash over abortion, guns, pandemic response in first debate

 Democratic incumbent Gretchen Whitmer and Republican challenger Tudor Dixon face off in a gubernatorial debate Thursday night in Grand Rapids.
Democratic incumbent Gretchen Whitmer and Republican challenger Tudor Dixon face off in a gubernatorial debate Thursday night in Grand Rapids.

Republican challenger Tudor Dixon called Governor Gretchen Whitmer a “radical” in their first debate Thursday, while the Democratic incumbent said it’s the GOP nominee who holds extremist views and still hasn’t promised to abide by the results of the November election.

Whitmer and Dixon tangled over abortion, guns, schools, and the economy in their first debate.

“This governor’s policies are radical, dangerous and destructive,” said Dixon during the faceoff hosted by WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids. “Crime is up, jobs are down, schools are worse, and the roads didn’t get fixed. That’s what happens when you hire a radical career politician. You go in the wrong direction.”

Dixon also said the Democratic incumbent botched her COVID response at the expense of businesses and education and “tried to hold on to her power like grim death.”

Whitmer said she made tough calls in a crisis.

“Thirty-five thousand people in our state have died from COVID. They may not matter to some, but they matter to me, every single one of them,” she said. “If I could go back in time with the knowledge we have now, sure, I would have made some different decisions. But we were working in the middle of a crisis and lives were on the line.”

Dixon also called Whitmer’s position in support of abortion rights “radical,” but the GOP nominee said she’d respect the voters’ decision if an abortion-rights amendment is adopted in November.

Whitmer said Dixon’s position on abortion is radical and that it matters who is in the governor’s chair when it comes to reproductive rights whether or not the amendment — on the ballot as Proposal 3 — is adopted.

“Here’s the fact of the matter: I still have a lawsuit that’s pending in front of the [Michigan] Supreme Court, so, ultimately, that too will have to be decided,” she said.

The court has not decided whether to hear the case, but abortion remains legal across Michigan under a lower-court order.

Whitmer also said Dixon’s wrong to oppose gun-free school zones and background checks for gun purchases. Dixon said Whitmer wants to impose onerous restrictions on gun ownership, infringing on second-amendment rights.

Whitmer laughed when Dixon said the governor wants to raise the gas tax “to force you into electric vehicles.” Neither candidate had an answer for how roads might be funded as transportation slowly shifts to vehicles that are not powered by fossil fuels, and gas tax revenue — a key source of money for the state's roads — starts to dry up.

Polls show Whitmer holding a significant lead, although the gap appears to be shrinking as the November 8 election draws closer.

The next and final debate is scheduled for October 25 at Oakland University.

Copyright 2022 Michigan Radio. To see more, visit Michigan Radio.

Rick Pluta | MPRN