Election 2022 in Michigan: Key races, issues to watch this November – Detroit Free Press

The primary election is in the books. That means in fewer than 100 days, Michigan voters officially choose the next leaders of the state. 

Will residents decide to keep the current progressive state leadership, fighting to maintain access to legal abortions while pushing back against misinformation tied to the pandemic and elections? Or will voters usher in a new conservative crew, one that speaks frequently about public safety, school choice and the need for more voting regulations that at times buoys conspiracies championed by former President Donald Trump? 

Prognostications are well underway. But before you start guessing the outcome of the Nov. 8 general election, here’s a quick overview of some of the biggest races and issues up for a vote this fall. 

At left, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer before the pre-tape of her State of the State speech at Detroit Diesel in Redford Township on Jan. 26, 2022, and on right, Tudor Dixon makes a victory speech after winning the Republican Party nomination for governor at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in downtown Grand Rapids on Aug. 2, 2022.

Michigan governor’s race

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer faced no challenger in the Democratic primary and will take on Republican Tudor Dixon in November. 

A stalwart on the national Democratic scene, Whitmer has a massive campaign war chest that she’ll use to both tout what she sees as the victories of her first term while blasting Dixon for opposing all abortions and for supporting an education funding plan that critics say is comparable to school vouchers. 

Dixon, a west Michigan businesswoman and mother of four, cruised past a bevy of challengers to easily win her party’s nomination. She’s already blasting the governor for statewide health mandates issued during the COVID-19 pandemic. Expect the GOP nominee to hammer Whitmer on her close ties to President Joe Biden — whose popularity remains lower in Michigan than Whitmer’s — and connect the governor to the current state and national economic uncertainty. 

Trump is another factor in this race (and many others): he remains popular with the GOP base but lost Michigan by more than 154,000 votes in 2020. Dixon already passed on a recent chance to say the election was stolen from Trump, perhaps a sign that she’s trying to pivot to a general election audience that is less enthusiastic about Trump than GOP primary voters. 

More:Listen to the ‘On The Line’ podcast: Tudor Dixon, Gretchen Whitmer and the Trump factor

More:Dixon, Whitmer working out of different playbooks as gubernatorial race gets underway

Michigan Attorney General canddiates Dana Nessel, a Democrat, left and Republican challenger Matthew DePerno.

Michigan Attorney General

While party insiders endorsed their preferred candidates months ago, the campaign between Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, and Republican challenger Matthew DePerno will heat up substantially in the coming weeks. 

The outspoken Nessel has repeatedly highlighted her focus on ensuring access to abortion in Michigan, noting DePerno’s previous comments about opposing any legal exceptions for abortions in the case of rape, incest or to preserve the life of the pregnant person. 

She’ll also highlight DePerno’s key role in spreading election-related misinformation: he was the lead attorney in the  Antrim County election lawsuit, which capitalized on human error to spread unfounded allegations of misconduct that gained national attention. 

DePerno isn’t afraid to punch back, though. He has repeatedly argued Nessel neglected her duties when she declined a request from GOP lawmakers to investigate whether Whitmer’s COVID-19 policies for nursing home residents amounted to criminal conduct. Going much further, the Trump-backed DePerno has threatened to criminally charge Whitmer and Nessel.

He has also consistently jabbed Nessel for an incident last year, where she drank two bloody marys while tailgating before the Michigan-Michigan State football game and had to leave “so as to prevent me from vomiting on any of my constituents,” as Nessel put it in a statement at the time. 

Expect constant sparring and fireworks from this race all fall. 

More:Mich. GOP supports Trump-backed candidates for SOS, AG

More:Michigan GOP AG candidates criticize case that nixed law banning use of birth control

Secretary of State candidates Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, left, takes on Republican Kristina Karamo.

Michigan Secretary of State 

Like attorney general, candidate endorsements in this race were settled via party convention earlier this year. 

That means Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, takes on Republican Kristina Karamo in the race to determine the leader of the department tasked with broadly overseeing elections and driver’s licenses. 

To be clear: the Michigan Secretary of State does not typically run any local election. But for years, Benson has made it her mission to dispel election misinformation while expanding ways for Michiganders to vote. 

That hasn’t come without controversy, something Karamo has highlighted: Leading up to the 2020 election, Benson recommended local clerks presume signatures on ballot applications were valid. Karamo and other Republicans ridiculed her for this move, suggesting without proof that it could open the door to voter fraud. 

But of the two candidates, Karamo is by far the one who has courted the most controversy. Earlier this year she spoke at a conference with ties to QAnon, lending credence to a sweeping and wildly inaccurate conspiracy theory that involves allegations of the “deep state” and combating international pedophilia rings.

Her campaign has said she doesn’t support the outlandish theories, but she has also come under scrutiny for things like labeling yoga a “satanic ritual,” discussing demonic possession and blaming Antifa, not Trump supporters, for the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol. 

Trump endorsed Karamo early in the election cycle. 

More:Michigan secretary of state candidate Kristina Karamo: I’m a little MAGA warrior

More:Michigan Republican secretary of state pick leveled baseless claims of election misconduct

Congressional races

Michigan will have a bevy of new representatives at the federal level this year. Although the state’s two U.S. Senate seats are not on the ballot, all 13 House seats are up for grabs. 

Following redistricting, the process of reapportioning congressional representation every decade based on a state’s population, Michigan lost a seat in the House. The congressional districts were also redrawn, resulting in new areas that many expect to be much more politically balanced and therefore highly competitive this fall. 

Here’s a look at four districts where the races will be tight: 

  • 3rd Congressional District: Trump-backed challenger John Gibbs ousted freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer this week for the Republican nomination in the Grand Rapids-area seat. He’ll face Hillary Scholten, a former Obama administration official who narrowly lost to Meijer in 2020. The district boundaries have changed significantly since then, including areas that have trended toward Democratic voters. That change, plus Gibbs’ Trump backing, make this race a key target for national Democrats. 
  • 7th Congressional District: U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin is familiar with close races. But this will likely be the biggest test yet for the former CIA officer. Moving so she now lives in this mid-Michigan district, she’ll face veteran and state Sen. Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte, to represent a very purple district. Democrats and Republicans are pouring substantial resources into this race. 
  • 8th Congressional District: For 30 years, voters in the Flint and Saginaw area consistently supported Democrats. But more recent trends show five-term U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee is likely in for a fight. He’ll face Paul Junge, a former television anchor who unsuccessfully challenged Slotkin in 2020. Junge will rely on the heavy Trump support in some of this region to gin up support to unseat Kildee. 
  • 10th Congressional District: This may be Republicans best shot to pick up a new Michigan seat in the U.S. House. No sitting member of Congress lives in this district, covering parts of Macomb and Oakland counties. But GOP support quickly coalesced around John James, a popular Republican who lost both his 2018 and 2020 bids to oust Democrats representing Michigan in the U.S. Senate. Recently retired judge Carl Marlinga earned the Democratic nomination in the race. Marlinga’s attacking James for not actually living in the district, but Republicans are firing back, noting Marlinga was the subject of a long-ago criminal probe that ultimately found no wrongdoing. 

More:Trump-backed John Gibbs beats Peter Meijer in GOP primary for west Michigan district

More:Carl Marlinga takes Democratic nomination, faces John James in congressional race

Abortion and the state Constitution 

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to reverse nearly 50 years of precedent and overrule Roe v. Wade only further invigorated the national conversation about abortion rights. Months before that ruling, Michiganders who support access to legal abortion started the process of changing the state’s Constitution through a voter initiative. 

That effort, which would amend the Constitution so that it expressly protects the right to an abortion, garnered more than 750,000 signatures, according to campaign organizers. While the state still needs to verify the signatures and formally approve that the question appears on the ballot, it appears likely voters will get to pick whether they support or oppose the language this fall. 

More:Where Michigan stands after a tumultuous day for abortion rights

More:Michigan abortion rights activists: We’re putting issue on November ballot

The language of the proposed amendment is relatively broad, and even if it passes, lawmakers would be able to pass bills that regulate some abortions. But it would ultimately allow for legal abortions in Michigan, something Democratic candidates like Whitmer and Nessel strongly believe is a top priority for many voters across the political spectrum. 

Contact Dave Boucher: dboucher@freepress.com or 313-938-4591. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Boucher1.

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