Tudor Dixon missed out on a final face-to-face goodbye with her grandmother, who died in a nursing home under strict Michigan rules for visitation.
Ms. Dixon now wants to take down the woman she blames: Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat whose handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has made her a top target for Republicans in elections next year.
“They didn’t even open the blinds,” Ms. Dixon told The Washington Times as she recalled standing outside the building where her grandmother was kept. “They just opened them so the slats were open, and I had to pick up my four daughters so they could try to see her through the window.”
“Can you imagine a time in your life in the history of the United States that the governor says if your loved one is in the facility dying you are not allowed in?”
Ms. Dixon, a co-host of the conservative TV news show “America’s Voice Live,” said other Michigan residents faced their own trials. Ms. Whitmer‘s shutdown orders were among the strictest in the U.S., but the governor regularly made headlines for seeming to break the rules.
One of those headlines came with the revelation that Ms. Whitmer, who advised residents to avoid out-of-state travel, flew on a private jet in March to visit her ailing father at a nursing home in Florida. Questions about how she paid for the trip generated another round of headlines.
Ms. Whitmer said she went to Florida before travel restrictions were imposed and before COVID-19 cases surged again in Michigan. Good luck selling that explanation to the state’s beleaguered residents, Republicans say.
The governor caved to pressure to apologize last month after she was photographed seated in a restaurant with at least 12 other people without masks, a violation of the state’s ban on gatherings of more than six people.
“I am human. I made a mistake, and I apologize,” Ms. Whitmer said.
“Gretchen Whitmer’s tenure as governor is one of hypocrisy and broken promises, subjecting Michiganders to draconian lockdowns while she lives by her own set of rules,” said Chris Gustafson, spokesperson for the Republican Governors Association. “From broken roads to the worst COVID recovery in the nation, Whitmer’s failed record will ensure she is a one-term governor.”
The souring on Ms. Whitmer is part of a broader trend of blowback on Democratic governors. At the beginning of the pandemic, New York’s Andrew Cuomo and California’s Gavin Newsom were riding high in the polls and received praise on nationwide television.
Ms. Whitmer lifted the state’s COVID restrictions on Tuesday, after roughly 15 months of limits on businesses, churches and personal gatherings.
Her approval rating among Michigan residents slipped from 58% in February to 50% in May, but the numbers were still solid for an incumbent governor. Democrats sounded confident about Ms. Whitmer‘s reelection prospects and took aim at potential Republican opponents.
“Every single step of the way, the same Republicans who are criticizing her have played politics with the pandemic and tried to obstruct her every single step of the way,” said Sam Newton, a spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association. “Their criticism is more of the same partisan political games they have been playing the entire time.”
Michigan residents rallied around Ms. Whitmer in October after the FBI said it had uncovered a plot from a right-wing militia group, the Wolverine Watchmen, to kidnap the governor, apparently out of frustration with the COVID-19 restrictions.
Ms. Whitmer’s office and the Michigan Democratic Party did not respond to emails seeking comment for this article, but Mr. Newton said Ms. Whitmer‘s leadership was based on science.
The danger is that her behavior at times seems to belie science. Last year, her husband tried to rush a company to place his boat in the water in northern Michigan before Memorial Day weekend while Ms. Whitmer was urging residents not to rush to the region.
Steve Mitchell, a Michigan-based Republican Party strategist, said Ms. Whitmer‘s “do as I say, not as I do” pattern of behavior has tarnished her image.
“The hypocrisy issue is what is hurting the governor and what Republicans are pouncing on,” Mr. Mitchell said.
Questions also are lingering about whether nursing home deaths related to COVID-19 have been undercounted.
“I think she is more vulnerable today than she was six months ago,” said David Dulio, a political science professor at Oakland University. “It has almost been this death by a thousand cuts.”
Ms. Whitmer is still favored to win reelection. The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan election tracker, shows the race leaning Democratic.
It is the first time since 1974 that an incumbent governor is running for reelection with their party in the White House.
“Gretchen’s mettle is being tested,” said pollster Edward Sarpolus, founder of Target-Insyght of Lansing. “This is the first time she has to work to win reelection.”
Mr. Sarpolus’ latest survey showed Ms. Whitmer with a 48% to 42% lead over former Detroit Police Chief James Craig and a 49% to 39% edge over John James, Michigan Republicans’ most recent nominee for U.S. Senate.
Neither Mr. Craig nor Mr. James has announced a bid, but speculation has pulled attention away from Ms. Dixon and the five other lesser-known Republicans in the race.
Perhaps most telling is that voters preferred Mr. Craig over Ms. Whitmer by a 63% to 30% margin when survey respondents were asked whom they trusted more on jobs and the economy. Less than 50% said Ms. Whitmer deserved to be reelected.
“The bottom line is Gretchen is vulnerable,” Mr. Sarpolus said. “Is she going to be beatable? Well, that depends if Republicans get a good candidate.”
Ms. Dixon hopes to be that candidate.
“I’m running because, obviously, I have seen what has happened in the last year with the lockdowns,” she said. “I saw the people and businesses and restaurants that suffered, and Gov. Whitmer really had no answers.”