Across the country, Election Day did not go how many expected. There were projections of a red wave, with Republicans favored to take control of the U.S. House, the Senate, and governorships throughout the country.
Yet this red wave never materialized, and that was especially true in Macomb County, Michigan, a Middle Suburb.
Incumbent Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer beat Republican nominee Tudor Dixon of Norton Shores, with 54.5% of the statewide vote. Whitmer once again flipped Macomb County blue, winning by a 5% margin over Dixon.
Whitmer also won Macomb County in 2018, but by a narrower 3.5% margin. The county went for Donald Trump in both 2016 and 2020 by more than 8%.
Michigan’s midterm election had record-setting voter turnout statewide. This year surpassed 2018 with the highest number of voters for a midterm flocking to the polls. The situation wasn’t any different in Macomb.
A total of 710,375 voters are registered in Macomb. In this election, 388,047, or 54% of those residents, turned out to vote, according to unofficial results from the Secretary of State’s office. In 2018, when Michigan had its second-highest midterm voter turnout, 365,489 voters turned out in Macomb. In total, 22,558 more Macomb citizens chose to vote in this year’s election, a 6.17% increase in voters.
Election Strategy Dissected
Jamie Roe, a political consultant based out of Macomb County, was confident prior to the election that Dixon was going to win. But he said he failed to realize how Whitmer’s campaign shifted part of their messaging when they saw how much Democrats were benefitting from early returns on absentee ballots. He credited Whitmer’s team for being “quite brilliant.”
“That allowed them, particularly Gov. Whitmer, to shift her messaging at the end, toward Republican voters who hadn’t voted absentee,” Roe said. “Late in the campaign, Gov. Whitmer’s message basically talks about how much she had worked with Republicans and had done so many bipartisan bills and had worked with Republicans to balance the budget, not raise taxes.”
This likely had an appeal to the Republicans in Macomb, who, Roe said, liked the idea of balancing a budget without raising taxes. He believes this campaign messaging was designed for the types of voters seen in Macomb.
Roe also called campaign spending on advertising a “massive factor” for Whitmer’s win.
Toward the end of the campaign, Dixon and Whitmer were raising similar amounts of money. Both pre-general election campaign finance disclosures said they had brought in around $4.5 million.
Those same reports disclosed that Dixon had spent around $2.2 million of that money, while Whitmer had spent $15 million. This is because previous disclosures showed Whitmer with a record-breaking war chest, raking in more than $30 million, before her campaign really started.
Outside spending also benefited Whitmer. The Democratic Governors Association (DGA) spent more than $28.8 million on advertising.
Dixon, on the other hand, had very little help from outside spending. The Republican Governors Association (RGA) spent just $3.6 million. When asked if Republican donors and organizations like the RGA played a role in Dixon’s loss, Roe said candidates were responsible for their own campaigns.
Voter Opens Up on Why Dixon Lost — and Election's Aftermath
Macomb County nurse and Democrat Scott Woods did not think the money from campaigns was the driving factor that led to Dixon’s loss. He thinks the biggest factor that contributed to Whitmer’s win boiled down to Proposal 3 being on the ballot, allowing voters to directly decide the fate of abortion access in the state.
“The whole abortion thing and the fact that Dixon really had no political experience, you know, sealed her fate,” Woods said.
Woods also thinks Dixon’s lack of name recognition contributed to her downfall. Building a platform to reach voters takes time, and he thinks she fell short in that regard.
Election denialism was still present this midterm season, but Woods said it was not as present in the city of Warren as he had thought.
The response to Dixon’s loss in the county is not what Woods had expected either. He said his community in Warren seemed quiet.
“I think the silence was deafening,” Woods said, referring to Republicans on his social media. “I mean, just the people that I know who are pro-Democrat are the only ones posting. Anybody that was Republican kind of went into a shell.”
Dan Netter is a labor and politics writer based in Lansing, MI. His favorite song "Lost in Time and Space" by Lord Huron. He's a senior at Michigan State studying social relations and policy.
Arden Vanover is a senior at Michigan State University studying journalism to make use of her natural-born curiosity. She is also the copyediting director of VIM Magazine.
Morgan Womack is a reporter and editor for The State News. She also works for the digital team at Michigan Radio and studies journalism at Michigan State University.