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Bridge Michigan
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Turnout numbers in Michigan governor primary could boost Gretchen Whitmer

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has plenty of reason for optimism based on turnout results from Tuesday’s primary election.
  • Democrat Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, without a primary opponent, did well Tuesday
  • Experts believe Whitmer could get another boost if an abortion rights measure makes the ballot
  • Tudor Dixon and Republicans fared well in toss-up counties

Turnout numbers from Tuesday — as well as a potential ballot measure to keep abortion legal in Michigan — give hope to Democrats in Michigan in what some say is a national wave year for Republicans, according to a Bridge Michigan analysis.

Incumbent Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ran unopposed Tuesday, but still received 935,000 votes, or about 82 percent of what she and her Democratic opponents received in 2018 when she faced two well-funded candidates.

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Whitmer also received more total votes than Republican primary winner Tudor Dixon and the four other GOP challenges combined in eight counties — Wayne, Oakland, Washtenaw, Ingham, Genesee, Marquette, Kalamazoo and Leelanau.

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Republicans see optimism in the results as well, noting more voters cast ballots as Republicans than in gubernatorial primaries in 2018, 2014 and 2010.

The Republicans gubernatorial candidates also received more votes than Whitmer in toss-up counties Macomb and Kent.

"Last night, Republicans turned out in historic numbers to make their voices heard,” said Paul Cordes, chief of staff of the Michigan Republican Party. 

“The intensity to defeat radical liberalism, stand up for our liberties and protect our state and our children's future has never been stronger than it is at this moment."

But those hopes could be washed away if Whitmer continues to do well in the Democratic strongholds like Oakland County, which has shifted from battleground county to almost solidly Democratic.

"Oakland County is not Republican territory anymore," said pollster Richard Czuba. 

"It is an increasingly Democratic stronghold, and I think that's really problematic for the Republicans. I think Whitmer is going to do extraordinarily well there."

Whitmer received 170,746 votes in Oakland County on Tuesday, compared to 117,857 total for Dixon and all of her challengers, including businessman Kevin Rinke, who lives in Bloomfield Township in the county.

In 2018, the number of Republican and Democratic votes in Oakland County doubled in the general election compared to the two contested primaries. 

If that ratio holds in November, Whitmer could win Oakland by more than 90,000 votes, according to a Bridge Michigan analysis.

Abortion changes race

Whitmer also could benefit from changing enthusiasm in the campaign, analysts say.

Republicans angry with Whitmer over COVID-19 restrictions were initially more energized heading into the 2022 midterm elections, said Democratic political strategist Adrian Hemond.

The dynamic may have changed after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade this year. Michigan voters could face a ballot measure in November that would enshrine abortion rights in the constitution, and polls show most voters favor Democrats’ position on abortion.

"The motivation gap is gone," he said. "Pre-filing deadline and pre-(abortion ruling,) Republicans had an enthusiasm advantage. That's all over with now."

Czuba pointed to Kansas, where an anti-abortion referendum lost overwhelmingly and led to "wildly jacked up turnout" in that state's Tuesday primary.

Another sign of Democratic success: Democratic U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin won more votes than GOP challenger Tom Barrett in the new 7th Congressional District. 

Both ran unopposed in the primary, but Republican voters had a contested gubernatorial election at the top of the ticket. 

Hope for Dixon

Republican strategists, however, aren’t dismissing Dixon’s chances. 

She’s won the support of former President Donald Trump, who has consistently energized Republicans, and deep-pocketed donors like the DeVos family of west Michigan.

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Republican consultant Dennis Lennox said Dixon is a disciplined candidate whose success shows she has momentum.

Another potential problem for Whitmer is that Black Democrats lost several primaries in the state and federal legislative races in Detroit, the state’s largest city, which could dampen turnout in November.

When Whitmer was elected in 2018, more than 40 percent of her margin for victory over challenger Bill Schuette came from Detroit.

"That's a real danger for Democrats," Hemond said. "The flip side of that is there are going to be some elections that are competitive between the two parties that stretch into the city of Detroit."

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