As midterms loom, GOP candidates like Tudor Dixon connect with voters on schools, economy

CLINTON TOWNSHIP, MICHIGAN – Khalil Othman has a message for Michigan, and for CBS late night host Stephen Colbert: The Dearborn resident exists and is committed to voting for Republican Tudor Dixon for governor.

“She is standing up for families,” Othman told a cheering crowd at a Friday evening rally for Dixon. “She’s the last line of defense.”

Othman, a Muslim American immigrant and father of five, attended an event for Dixon last month and told her of his concerns about sexually explicit content he had found in the school library.

Although he has long been a Democrat, Othman has said that he will vote Republican this year because he feels his party has ignored him. Dixon, in contrast, has listened to him and his community about the books in public schools.

She shares his concerns.

'Save our kids'

Dixon related her encounter with Othman at the second October debate with her opponent, incumbent Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Shortly thereafter, Colbert played clips from the debate on his network TV show and accused Dixon of making up this encounter and questioned the father's existence.

Tudor Dixon, the Republican candidate for governor of Michigan, on her campaign bus.
Tudor Dixon, the Republican candidate for governor of Michigan, on her campaign bus.

In the final days before the election, Dixon says it’s parents like Othman she is hearing from the most as she travels the state. And education could be the issue that helps push Dixon to victory. She says the message she’s gotten from voters is clear.

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“'Save our kids,'” Dixon told me Friday, during an interview on her campaign bus ahead of a rally in Metro Detroit’s Macomb County. “That’s what I keep hearing when I talk to folks.”

Michigan’s race for governor has become one of the most watched in the country, as Dixon has overcome a huge fundraising gap and lack of name recognition to make the race competitive. Real Clear Politics is predicting a GOP pickup.

Republicans resonate with voters on the issues

Michigan is far from alone in having surprisingly close races in states with Democratic incumbents. Oregon, for example, has its best shot of electing a Republican as governor for the first time in four decades. And the race in New York is also much closer than previously predicted.

More: Will Oregon go Republican? GOP surge at state level shines a light on what voters want.

In these cases, the GOP candidates are addressing voters’ concerns, whether that’s education in Michigan, homelessness in Oregon or crime in New York. And this trend is happening in races all over the country.

Democrats placed their bets on running in favor of abortion rights, following the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade in June. They’ve also tried to make this election about preserving democracy, portraying Republicans as the party set on destroying it.

Not only is that an offensive message to tens of millions of Americans, but it ignores what voters have made clear is most important to them – the economy and 40-year-high inflation.

Polls reflect the disconnect between voters’ top issues and what Democrats are pushing. In the past few weeks, there has been an astonishing movement in support toward Republicans, especially among the key groups of independent voters and white suburban women.

Inflation tops abortion

In Michigan, Whitmer, the incumbent Democrat, has made “fighting like hell” for abortion her No. 1 priority. Dixon, who is strongly anti-abortion, says it’s not an issue she hears about on the campaign trail. Again, it comes back to schools – how kids are so far behind following many months of being locked out of the classroom, in addition to what they are being taught.

More: Abortion an answer to inflation? Democrats have overplayed their hand, and voters know it.

“It's not really an issue in the governor's race,” Dixon said of abortion. “People are most concerned about the fact that we are in the bottom 10 in education. It's that we have so many kids who didn't hit their mark on reading.”

A poll The Wall Street Journal released last week found that white suburban women, who make up 20% of the voting base, favor Republicans in congressional races by 15 percentage points. It's a significant shift from August, when these voters said they supported Democrats by 12 points.

This is the target bloc Democrats had hoped to win over on abortion rights, but it’s the economy and the direction of the country that are motivating these women.

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Similarly, a recent New York Times/Sienna College survey shows independent women favor Republicans by 18 points, a huge shift from when they supported Democrats by 14 points in September.

Suburban moms are taking action

Dixon said she has seen these suburban women show up at her rallies, and many of them weren’t involved politically until Democratic officials and their union allies allowed COVID-19 to disrupt their children’s education – in some of Michigan’s largest districts it was for more than a year.

“We have a lot of moms who are coming, and they're bringing their kids,” Dixon said. “It's emotional. They're saying, ‘please focus on education.’ ”

More: Teachers unions want parents to forget what happened during COVID lockdowns. Don’t let them.

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Tori Sachs, a Michigan-based Republican strategist and a mother of four girls, attended a recent Dixon rally with her children and said it was “amazing” to see all the other moms there, many of whom were getting involved in politics for the first time. In addition to the anger over school closures and policies, Sachs said it’s the economy and inflation driving these women.

USA TODAY columnist Ingrid Jacques
USA TODAY columnist Ingrid Jacques

“We do a majority of the grocery shopping and back-to-school shopping,” Sachs said. “The prices this year were just outrageous. And so I think that is why they're voting Republican this time.”

Ingrid Jacques is a columnist at USA TODAY. Contact her at ijacques@usatoday.com or on Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Economy and education are driving suburban women to GOP in midterms