DETROIT (AP) โ€” It’s just late October prime time debateMichigan Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon had given nearly a dozen television interviews by noon the next day. Campaign ads finally aired on television, and Dixon was set to embark on a statewide bus tour to become Michigan’s next governor.

The route was a stark contrast to the early days of her general election campaign against Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, when Dixon came out of the primary GP and then seemed to disappear from the voters’ field of view. Weeks of ads attacking her went unanswered while Dixon lay low trying to raise more money for the campaign, she said.

The change in campaign strategy paid off as a more visible Dixon made the race the week closer to Election Day. She hopes to capitalize on GOP momentum across the country fueled by voter anxieties about the economy and inflation, and Low approval rating for President Joe Biden.

“That was the plan and that’s how it went,” Dixon told The Associated Press last week. “And I really think our momentum is coming at the perfect time.”

Whitmer remains the favorite for the race. But Democrats acknowledge that the political climate is tougher than in 2018, when backlash against President Donald Trump helped Whitmer and other Democratic candidates win statewide and take control of the U.S. House of Representatives. that autumn Whitmer defeated Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette by almost 10 percentage points. This year’s election is expected to be closer.

“We always knew it was going to be a close race,” Whitmer said after the Oct. 25 debate. “I didn’t doubt it for a second. What I doubted was the polls that showed double figures.’

Dixon, who has never held elected office, emerged from relative anonymity as a a far-right online news commentator to won in the republican nomination on the back of an endorsement from Trump and support from the wealthy family of former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the state’s top GOP political contributors, who are among her top donors.

Dixon has been silent statewide since the primary as she struggled to keep up with Whitmer’s fundraising efforts, with the incumbent having nearly 30 times more money than Dixon in August. Whitmer and Democrats began airing attack ads that quoted Dixon as saying the 14-year-old rape victim was a “perfect example” of why she doesn’t support abortion rights. Although Dixon does not support abortion in cases of rape and incest, she says the quote was taken out of context.

The Republican Governors Association announced earlier this year that it would spend $3.5 million in Michigan on ads supporting Dixon, but early voting took nearly two weeks before the ads began airing statewide in mid-October. At the Oct. 13 debate, Dixon acknowledged that many voters will be hearing from her directly for the first time.

Some strategists say it may have been too late.

“There was a whole month in August where Dixon’s campaign had no infrastructure and they were building it,” said Jason Roe, former executive director of the Michigan Republican Party. “They did it too slowly and lost a month and were defined by (Whitmer’s) advertising.”

RGA Chairman Doug Dassey called the investment a sign that Dixon is a competitive candidate, saying during a stop with Dixon in mid-October that “we don’t fund losing cases and we don’t pay for landslides.” Ducey, the outgoing governor of Arizona, also told a crowd at a “parents’ rights rally” in suburban Detroit that “the time has come” for supporters to reach out to their friends and neighbors and ask them to vote.

“The undecideds are really starting to pay attention, and that’s who will decide this election,” Ducey said.

Democrats have continued to call Dixon extreme and unfit for servicereferring to comments she made in 2020 that surfaced last week on CNN that Democrats were trying to “overthrow the greatest country in the world” and that they had been handed a “viral gift.”

Earlier this year, Dixon said she believed Trump was the legitimate winner in Michigan, where Joe Biden won by 154,000 votes, and she refused to accept the results of the November election. Dixon told reporters that if Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson “holds another illegal election, that’s going to be a problem.”

Many federal and local officialsa a long list of courtsthe top former employees of the election campaign and even Trump’s own attorney general stated that there is no evidence of election fraud.

In an AP interview, Whitmer accused her opponent of spreading conspiracy theories and inciting violence, calling her “the greatest threat to American democracy.”

“She ignited harsh rhetoric. She lit up plot to kidnap and kill me. She disagreed about other threats to me and my family,โ€ Whitmer said in reference comments Dixon made at an event in September that downplayed the 2020 plot to kidnap the governor.

Whitmer was a former district attorney and legislative leader when she ran for the state’s highest office in 2018. Since then she is rose to the top of the state Democratic Party and it was considered to be Bidenian partner

Dixon attacked Whitmer for her closeness to the president, with whom the governor shook hands at an event in September, and his “failed” economic policies. She also criticized Whitmer’s implementation of one of the nation’s strictest coronavirus policies, which has left many businesses and schools struggling.

“Parents are very concerned about our educational standing,” Dixon said, noting recent test scores that showed Michigan schools had some of the lowest scores in the nation. “You look at what is happening in the field of education. It hurts our black communities even more. ยป

In response to the criticism, Whitmer said that if Dixon had been governor during the pandemic, “thousands more people would have died.” She also said that inflation is a global problem caused in part Russia’s war in Ukraine and the pandemic, and that it has taken steps to ease the pain for Michigan residents, such as offering help with child care costs.

On Saturday, former President Barack Obama traveled to Detroit to campaign with Whitmer and other Democrats and shot a television ad on her behalf. Dixon announced the appearance of Obama, who also appears campaigning for a number of vulnerable leadersis a testament to how close the race has become.

A centerpiece of Whitmer’s campaign was abortion rights, which she helped defend when she sued to block the 1931 abortion law from coming into force after The US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

Democrats hope the proposal will pass in November seeking to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution will energize their base and lead to high voter turnout, which will help Democratic candidates.

Associated Press writer Sarah Burnett in Chicago contributed to this report.

Joey Cappelletti is an Associated Press/Reporting staff member for the US Government News Initiative. Reporting for America is a nonprofit national outreach program that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover underreported issues.

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