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6 Most Memorable Moments From The Debate

November 1, 2022

Article courtesy MIRS News, for SBAM’s Lansing Watchdog e-newsletter

If you felt Whitmer-Dixon 2 felt an awful lot like the original, you’re not alone. 

Whether it was abortion or an invitation to say something nice to the other, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Republican challenger Tudor Dixon travelled on well-trodden policy ground during Thursday night’s final debate. 

The overly rehearsed answers to the unnecessarily long questions asked at the WXYZ-TV event at Oakland University failed to give viewers the spontaneity that makes for good TV.

“This was a rehash,” said Anna Heaton of Resch Strategies. “At one point, I felt bad for both of them that they had to redo the same exact thing they did last week.”

“It made me wonder if they were privy to the questions prior to,” said Karen Dumas, co-host of the No BS Newshour. “The good old-fashioned catch-’em-in-a- corner doesn’t exist anymore. It’s all to the disadvantage of the voter.”

That doesn’t mean there weren’t some zingers that kept things interesting. Below are the top six lines from the debate as rated by the four communications experts MIRS spoke with afterwards.

1. Dixon’s Comeback On the MCCA – The Governor tried to exploit Dixon’s lack of government experience by pointing out that a governor doesn’t decide the size of Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association (MCCA) refunds. This is done by the MCCA, which is made up of insurance company executives. 

That said, a governor can have influence behind the scenes and can always take credit for something that happens under her watch.

Whitmer: “Mrs. Dixon is showing you how ill-prepared she is for this job. The governor doesn’t decide for the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association what the checks are going to be.”

Dixon: “I’m glad she admitted that because her commercials are constantly saying that she gave $400 checks back to everyone.”

“That was a good quip,” Dumas said.

2. Whitmer On Armed Guards In Schools – Dixon offered a specific policy solution to prevent gun violence in schools, but the Governor gave an immediate response on how that policy doesn’t work. 

Every one of the communications professionals MIRS talked to said it was the Governor’s strongest moment Thursday night. It was one moment in the debate when Whitmer clearly was speaking from the heart.

Dixon: “I would like to have armed security at our schools. I would like to make sure that we have one entry point.”

Whitmer: “There was a school shooting in Missouri yesterday in a district that had exactly what she just described. One place of entry. Armed guards in the school district and people are dead. We’ve been trying that for 30 years. It’s not working. It’s time to try proven policies . . .

“Who is going to keep your kids safe? The former prosecutor with plans or the candidate with thoughts and prayers?”

“The Governor’s strongest moment was on gun violence when she talked about several polices that poll well on gun safety like background checks and red flag laws,” said Josh Hovey of Martin Waymire. “She made Dixon look callous with the ‘thoughts and prayers’ comment and it drew a line between herself and her challenger.”

“When she talks about school safety, I feel like she truly cares about the subject,” Heaton said. “I think it’s something she loses sleep over.”

3. Kids Out Of School For Three Months? – The state’s pandemic orders may be what officially kept schools locked up for only three months during the pandemic, but many schools continued to stay closed well into the 2020-21 school year as the state sent signals that online learning was safer for students and adults.

Whitmer: “I worked closely with my Republican and Democratic governors and kids were out for three months.”

Dixon: “I’m pretty sure I just heard an audible gasp around town when Gretchen Whitmer said that kids were out of school for three months. Perhaps she wasn’t paying attention to what was actually happening. We even had schools that were closed this year. 

“It is shocking to me she thinks that schools were only closed for three months or maybe she thinks she can convince you that schools were only closed for three months, but you know better.”

“The Wall Street Journal just had an editorial on how far kids fell behind during the pandemic and Michigan didn’t fare well,” said Deb Muchmore of Deb Muchmore Consulting. “All you had to do was have kids in the K-12 education system to know how far behind they fell. I had a niece who graduated high school who had a summer full of tutoring to prepare her for her freshman year in college.”

4. Whitmer Finds A Way To Tag Dixon With 2020 Conspiracy – The subject was abortion, but the Governor found a way to pivot to how Dixon has stated numerous times that she believes widespread election fraud cost Donald Trump the presidency in 2020, a position a majority of voters don’t agree with. Dixon didn’t defend her position, but tried to cast Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist in the same light for asking for a recount in 2017 when he was running for clerk.

Whitmer: “I will always accept the will of the people. I think you’re asking a really interesting question, though. That is a question that should be posed to Mrs. Dixon. She refuses to accept the outcome of the last election . . . She is an election denier.” 

Dixon: “I would like to comment on Gretchen Whitmer and her demeanor calling me an election denier . . . I’m wondering when she will say that she can’t run with Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist anymore because he’s also an election denier since he came out in 2017 and asked for a recount.”

“The Governor was strong out of the gate. She hit on abortion and went on the offensive from that,” Hovey said.

“The Governor’s best moments were when she was sticking to the script,” Dumas said. “I credit her for being consistent regardless of the validity of those messages.”

5. Line 5 Isn’t Shut Down But It Could Have Been – With $4-a-gallon gas, Whitmer is in a tough spot having advocated early in her tenure to shut down the light crude pipeline that goes underneath the Mackinac Straits called Line 5. She’s been forced to talk around her position and Dixon called her out on it.

Dixon: “Line 5 has not been shut down, but that’s not because Gretchen Whitmer hasn’t tried . . . In fact, Justin Trudeau, who I would say is the most radical environmentalist in the entire world came out and invoked a 1977 treaty telling Gretchen Whitmer that she could not shut down Line 5.”

Whitmer: “Mrs. Dixon wants to always do things the way they’ve always been done with a look to the past. I want to make sure that we are expanding our energy alternatives in clean energy and being good stewards of our water.”

“I think this knocked the Governor back on her heels a little bit,” Heaton said. “The Governor continues to say she’s bi-partisan and she’ll work with everyone, but her responses to the question didn’t reflect that.”

6. “As a Mom, I was thinking About Saving The Lives Of Our Kids” — Whitmer’s three-month school closure line got jumped on, but she came back with one of her more genuine moments by saying everything she did during the COVID-19 pandemic was about saving lives.

Dixon said the governor was trying to “force the vaccine onto people.” While the Governor strongly pointed out that it’s people who get the COVID vaccine and there was never any state requirement that they do so.

Whitmer: “The reason kids were out of school during the pandemic was because we were working off the knowledge from 1918, when kids died from the last global pandemic. As a mom, all I was thinking about was saving the lives of our kids.”

“There isn’t any person who is being honest that can say they could have done a better job during the pandemic, an arena that nobody had experience in,” Muchmore said. “The Governor’s remarks on her protection of lives is significantly important. Other governors made different choices. Who was right and who was wrong? It’s hard to know, but the Governor’s approach was to save lives.”

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