(NewsNation) — Michigan’s gubernatorial candidates will face off Thursday night in their first debate ahead of this year’s midterm elections. Republican challenger Tudor Dixon looks to use the primetime appearance to narrow her gap with Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
There are two key topics that will control the debate Thursday night: abortion and the economy.
A Democrat-backed group launched a new ad Thursday, two days after the primary election, attacking Dixon’s anti-abortion stance.
Whitmer, who is an attorney and a past state senator, has a 54% approval rating as governor. Her key focuses have been health care and infrastructure, but this time around on the campaign trail, she’s been hammering the abortion issue as a pro-choice advocate.
“If you’re a woman in America, you no longer have control over your own body. Are we going to give up? Are we going to curl up in a ball as sad and angry as we feel? Or what do we say?” Whitmer said.
Whitmer is seeking her second term as governor after serving in leadership in the Michigan Legislature, where in 2013 during a debate over insurance coverage of abortion she publicly shared her story of being raped. She has since said she will “fight like hell” to protect abortion rights, including filing a lawsuit earlier this year to block a 1931 ban from taking effect in the state after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
Abortion has been a particularly prominent issue in Michigan this year because voters in November also will decide whether to enshrine the right to the procedure in the state constitution.
Backed by former President Donald Trump, Dixon has never held public office and is still working to introduce herself and her ideas to voters — some of whom may be seeing her in action for the first time at Thursday’s debate. She is a businesswoman, a cancer survivor and a mom.
Dixon has said she supports abortion only to save the life of the mother, and she has been endorsed by anti-abortion groups, including Right to Life of Michigan.
During her campaign trail, Dixon has been rallying that they should put the abortion issue aside because it’s already on the ballot. She’s been ringing in her viewers through the economy and education.
“If parents feel that that school is not performing for their child, or that their child isn’t performing well in that school, they should have the option to go someplace else. And I think that once we have those children in the appropriate schools, we will see our kids, our students across the state thrive,” Dixon said.
Among likely voters who think the economy is the state’s most important issue, Dixon is 10 points ahead of Whitmer.
By contrast, Whitmer is ahead by 36 points among voters who say abortion is the most important issue facing Michigan.
But with just weeks to go before the Nov. 8 midterm election, Dixon is expected to fire back at Whitmer during the debate in Grand Rapids. She has described the governor’s views as “radical” on issues such as education, abortion and criminal justice. Dixon also has criticized Whitmer on the campaign trail for her approach to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying lockdowns she imposed hurt the state’s economy.
The debate kicks off at 7 p.m. ET Thursday. You can watch the debate live on NewsNation.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.