Finley: Dixon must kick campaign into gear

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

My evening routine is to plop in front of the television at 7:30 and switch on Jeopardy. I'm hit-or-miss on answers to the trivia questions.

But I can recite from memory nearly every line of the Democrats' abortion attack ad on Republican gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon. It's that ubiquitous.

With just three months till the November election, Dixon has still only been seen to voters the way Democrats want her to be seen.

The commercials have not just defined Dixon's no rape or incexceptions position on abortion, but have driven it into the subconscious of the Michigan electorate.

Dixon's response? Nada.

The candidate is not yet up with commercials explaining her position on abortion, or anything else. Nor have Republicans hit back with attacks on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's support for abortion on demand up to the moment of birth. 

Defining herself before Democrats did it for her was a key challenge Dixon faced coming out of her primary win.

She hasn't met it. She's been scarce on the campaign trail.

And yet, a poll last week commissioned by AARP places Dixon just 5 percentage points behind Whitmer, at 51%-46%. And that's without much evidence that she's even campaigning. Imagine where she'd be if voters had heard from her these past few weeks?  

"Campaigns are not won in August," says James Blair, Dixon's chief strategist. "They're won in September and October. We spent August preparing our infrastructure, raising money and working to get our lieutenant governor candidate through the (state party) convention."

As for answering the abortion commercials, Blair says the campaign won't take Whitmer's bait.

"They want to run a race on abortion, abortion, abortion," he says. "We're not going to do that. Abortion voters are already voting for Gretchen Whitmer. Persuadable voters are not motivated by abortion. They're motivated by the economy, jobs, roads, education, and those are our issues."

Still, such an intense attack merits at least some response. Dixon doesn't necessarily need to match the commercial spending, but she must position herself to get the free media that comes with campaign coverage. And she can't allow the narrative to take hold that she's not working hard.

Going dark such a long stretch while her opponent is enjoying the visibility that comes with incumbency is a big risk.

Dixon, who was scheduled to be at the Woodward Avenue Dream Cruise and the Escanaba County Fair this weekend, has mostly been doing fundraisers, an absolute necessity. Whitmer has enough money to spend well more than $1 million a week between now and the Nov. 8 election, thanks to her national celebrity fundraising tours. 

With the cash she had on hand in the latest report, Dixon could match that spending for barely a week or so. 

Money isn't everything, of course. Dixon's advantage in this race is her ability to connect with voters on a personal level. She presents as positive and genuine, more relatable than Whitmer, who's assumed a bigger-than-Michigan attitude in her first term. 

Voters can't develop that connection with Dixon unless they see and hear her.

Michigan's late primary turns the general election campaign into a sprint. There are just three months between the two elections, and Dixon has spent much of the first month only seen by voters the way Democrats want them to see her.

Twitter: @NolanFinleyDN

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