Behind Tudor Dixon’s rise in the chaotic GOP primary for Michigan governor

TAYLOR, Mich. – Tudor Dixon’s campaign for governor has been declared dead.

As recently as May, the former conservative commentator and actor had voted near the end of a crowded Republican primary field and was scrambling to raise funds. But unlike her character in the 2011 low-budget horror film “Buddy BeBop vs the walking dead,” who was eaten alive by zombies, Dixon has had a resurrection rarely seen in major races.

45-year-old Dixon benefited from mayhem-making pitfalls from her rivals, two of whom were disqualified after allegedly collecting fraudulent petition signatures, and big bucks from the DeVos family, veritable kingmakers in Michigan politics.

And then, late Friday, former President Donald Trump gave Dixon a long-cabled acknowledgment ahead of Tuesday’s primary, acknowledging how far she’s come while also getting some credit for her rise by shouting at friendly remembered words he had for her at a rally in Michigan months ago.

“When I met Tudor Dixon, she wasn’t very well known, but I could tell there was something very special about her,” Trump said.


Dixon’s fortunes took off after the DeVos family came on board in late May. The family, which includes former GOP nominee for governor Dick DeVos and his wife Betsy, who ran Trump’s education department, has helped fund a pro-Dixon super PAC. As the group’s $2 million commercial blitz took hold, Dixon zoomed to modest but consistent leads in the polls.

Andy Surabian, a GOP national strategist close to Trump’s political team, told NBC News that the upset in the race and the support of the DeVos family were critical to Dixon’s candidacy.

“Tudor was the base candidate throughout the race,” said Surabian, who has followed the race but has not worked with any of the candidates. “She wasn’t seen as a top contender for most of the race and the establishment ridiculed her campaign, but her raw natural talent won out and now she’s the front runner.”

However, the final days of elementary school were no less of a gauntlet. The GOP candidates behind Dixon, along with Democrats invested in protecting their incumbent, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, have gone to any lengths to prevent her from winning the nomination.

Dixon, who did target practice in front of news cameras at a gun range in Taylor south of Detroit on Saturday, said Trump called her with the confirmation messages on Friday night as she was leaving a carnival.

“I knew it was going to be a lot of work,” she said of her campaign while chatting with reporters. “Even at the very beginning, when I first met some people who had been in the Michigan political arena, they said, ‘You can never do this, it’s so hard.’ And I said, ‘You know what? I’m a really stubborn person.'”

But she added: “We’ll see on Tuesday.”

Michigan, an election battleground, could hold the key to a Trump comeback if he runs again in 2024. Whoever is governor this year will be able to confirm the election results, and each of the GOP nominees for governor, including Dixon, has promoted baseless conspiracies about the 2020 Michigan election that repeat Trump’s voter fraud lies. Meanwhile, Whitmer, who made it deep into President Joe Biden’s search for a running mate in 2020, has long been a target of Trump’s wrath.

Recent polls have shown that Kevin Rinke, a self-financing former auto dealer whose name is familiar to Detroit-area voters, is Dixon’s closest competitor. Garrett Soldano, a chiropractor who garnered a broad following on the right through protests against Whitmer’s Covid policies, also has double-digit poll numbers. The same goes for Ryan Kelley, a real estate agent who has pleaded not guilty to federal charges that he was part of the Jan. 6 attack by Trump supporters on the US Capitol aimed at certifying the election to stop in 2020.

Dixon’s opponents have attempted to use the DeVos endorsement against her, portraying the family as rogue insiders disloyal to Trump. Betsy DeVos resigned from Trump’s cabinet after the deadly Jan. 6 riot. More recently she said She was among those discussing invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.

At debates, Soldano characterized Dixon as committed to professional politicians and the establishment. Rinke has more than $1 million behind him TV advertising branding DeVos a RINO, or “Republican in name only,” while accusing Dixon of being backed by “Never Trumpers.”

And in a letter sent Thursday, nine Trump-backed Michigan candidates asked the former president not to side with the “Devos family of the establishment.” The writing was widely viewed as an attempt to prevent Trump from endorsing Dixon.

“A war for the soul of the GOP is raging in Michigan, with Trump-backed candidates on one side and the established DeVos family on the other,” they wrote in the letter, along with NBC News and first reported by The Detroit News. “We urge President Trump not to work with Betsy DeVos in Michigan.”

Trump endorsed Dixon the next day. For her part, DeVos defended in a handwritten letter to trump. “I have heard that some have suggested that my family and I are working against you in Michigan,” DeVos wrote in the letter, which was receive from the New York Times. “This is fake news.”

The last-minute power struggle might not matter. Michigan Secretary of State reported this week that nearly 600,000 early ballots have already been returned — ahead of the pace of 2018, when both parties had competitive gubernatorial primaries.

“It’s definitely too late to have any impact,” said a veteran of the state’s GOP campaigns, who is not a candidate and asked not to be identified to speak candidly, about the effort to stop Dixon. “I think she’s got it in her pocket.”

Like her rivals, Dixon had an unconventional route to the primary. In addition to acting (her credits include a web series about vampires), she also worked for her family’s steel company. Most recently, she worked with Real America’s Voice, the same network that carries former Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s program, a conspiracy theory-inspired show popular with the right.

“She was aligned with all the other candidates, and this way of portraying or disguising Tudor Dixon as an establishment candidate has somehow glossed over the fact that she falls well outside the traditional mainstream of Republican candidates in and around the country,” Jeff Timmer, a former Michigan GOP executive director who has angered the party, said. “She doubles down on the big lie stuff every chance she gets. She is against abortion in extreme cases like rape and incest.”

Dixon’s hardline anti-abortion stance is one of several positions she’s emphasizing in her campaign — and one of the Democrats has seized on it to portray her as an extremist. (Dixon prefers exceptions only when mother’s life is in danger.) She prefers phase out state income tax. And she talks about it often “Parental Rights” in education — a concept being embraced by GOP candidates across the country amid battles over how to teach about racism in the US and whether schools can encourage discussions about sexual orientation.

She latched onto the culture wars and did it attacked the use of gender-neutral language as part of a “war on women”.

Democrats have signaled that Dixon is the candidate they fear most in a general election. A group affiliated with the Democratic Governors Association fell with one this week seven-digit advertising flash this characterizes Dixon’s state budget proposals as anti-police.

Jason Roe, who served as executive director of the Michigan GOP until he was forced out of office for saying the 2020 election wasn’t stolen and Trump screwed it up, described the Republican primary campaign as a “clown show.”

He added that growing together around Dixon could be less about beating Whitmer and more about having a candidate who won’t crush turnout this fall and cost the GOP control of the legislature.

Other contestants have too much baggage to top the ticket, Roe said. Kelley has the charges dated January 6th. Years ago, Rinke was sued by employees who accused him of making sexually suggestive and racist comments. (He said The Associated Press this month that the allegations were false and that he had resigned himself to avoiding more costly lawsuits.)

“She’s definitely our best chance to win,” Roe said of Dixon.

Rinke, who claims Dixon’s experience in the private sector pales in comparison to his own, shrugged during a campaign rally outside his campaign headquarters in Troy on Saturday morning.

“Candidates win elections, no endorsements,” Rinke said. “Boy it’s gonna taste sweet when all these people eat crow.”

The few dozen supporters who showed up for Rinke ate donuts and drank coffee while he spoke. But there was one conspicuous absence. Matt DePerno, the Trump-backed Republican for Michigan Attorney General, should join Rinke. Someone in the crowd wondered aloud why he wasn’t there.

“You’d have to ask Matt DePerno,” Rinke replied.

A few hours later the question was answered. DePerno entered the shooting range alongside Dixon. Behind Tudor Dixon’s rise in the chaotic GOP primary for Michigan governor

Fry Electronics Team

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