(NewsNation) — In a debate that covered everything from abortion and public education funding to crime and policing, the two candidates in the race for Michigan governor squared off Thursday evening.
Like so many races across the country, questions around abortion rights were front and center.
Democratic incumbent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called out her Republican challenger Tudor Dixon’s “extreme” position on abortion and said the GOP candidate opposed the procedure even in cases of rape or incest, calling her “too dangerous” to serve as governor.
On Thursday, Dixon said she is “pro-life with exceptions for the life of the mother” and criticized Whitmer for not supporting limits on abortion.
The issue is particularly salient for Michigan voters, who will decide whether to enshrine the right to an abortion in the state’s constitution in November. If elected governor, Dixon said she would accept the will of the voters on that issue.
Whitmer also took aim at Dixon’s history of election denial, criticizing her opponent’s repeated comments casting doubt on the outcome of the 2020 election.
NewsNation spoke to Whitmer after the debate, and she emphasized what she feels is at stake in this election.
“There’s a lot on this ballot,” said Whitmer. “It includes abortion, it includes public education and it includes our democracy.”
Meanwhile, Dixon, a former conservative commentator who’s been endorsed by former President Donald Trump, attacked Whitmer for what she’s done during her time in office.
Dixon criticized the governor’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying she was heavy-handed in issuing lockdowns that hurt small businesses and kept kids out of schools.
The Republican challenger said Michigan needs more funding in schools and a tutoring system for children to get back on track. She emphasized her support for police and vowed to put one billion dollars toward law enforcement.
Dixon also attacked the governor for her stance on gender-affirming care for transgender youth.
“Parents are still wondering where Gretchen Whitmer stands on sex and gender theory in our schools,” said Dixon. “We’re seeing that uprising across the state and she just simply won’t respond.”
Whitmer currently holds an eight-point lead over Dixon, according to FiveThirtyEight’s polling average.
The two will square off again in their second and final debate on Oct. 25.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.