Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) and conservative commentator Tudor Dixon (R) have agreed to appear in two statewide televised debates, but the specific dates are still up in the air.
Gov. Whitmer’s campaign announced on August 24th that they “accepted invitations” for debates on October 13th and 25th. The former event would be hosted by WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids, and the latter would be hosted by WXYZ (Channel 7) in Detroit. The dates are in line with the previous gubernatorial debates in 2018, which took place October 12th and 24th.
“For more than a decade, Michigan has held one to two statewide televised gubernatorial debates in October,” said Maeve Coyle, a spokeswoman for Whitmer’s campaign. “Gov. Whitmer looks forward to continuing Michigan’s gubernatorial general election tradition and ensuring voters across the state have the opportunity to see the clear contrast between candidates.”
Dixon’s campaign also accepted the invitations to both events, but her campaign did not agree to the dates listed. Dixon’s campaign offered dates as early as September for the first televised debate, suggesting dates from the 20th to 28th, as well as October 17th and 24th for the second event.
Tudor insists that the first gubernatorial debate must happen before voters receive their mail-in ballots on September 29th. “Debates must start BEFORE voting begins, not after as Whitmer is demanding,” Dixon posted on her Twitter. The GOP candidate continues by saying “[Whitmer] wants to hide, but the people deserve answers!”
A press release states that the Dixon campaign is “extending an invitation to the Whitmer campaign to negotiate mutually agreeable dates directly.” So far, the Dixon campaign has received little to no communication from Whitmer’s about scheduling the events.
Dave Dulio, a political science professor at Oakland University, observes that campaigns entering an election with an advantage may be less open to debates, which can expose vulnerabilities in their positions and presentation. “I’m not saying that’s the case with the Whitmer campaign,” explained Dulio. “My hunch is that they’re pretty confident, but you know, oftentimes it’s the incumbent who wants to shy away from putting themselves out there.”
Political science research often shows that incumbent candidates have an innate advantage against newcomer opponents. Dixon, a North Shore businesswoman who formerly contributed to the conservative news program America’s Voice News, has never held public office before. Whitmer, on the other hand, already has one term as governor under her belt. Whitmer has also been outspending her opponent by millions of dollars.
There are some races that come and go without a single debate, such is the case with the 2020 US Senate race between U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and John James, where neither candidate could agree on a date to meet together. Chuck Stokes, WXYZ-TV’s editorial director, says political debates are vital for the electorate and hopes that there will be a gubernatorial debate this year.
“I think the people deserve to see the two standing side-by-side, articulating who they are, what their policies are,” said Stokes. “When you get situations where there are no debates, then that’s unfortunate and doesn’t serve the public.”
Should the two candidates finally agree on a time, Michigan will see two women competing for the governor’s office on their TVs for the first time in the state’s history.