STERLING HEIGHTS, Mich. — Tudor Dixon, a former conservative media personality and now Michigan’s Republican nominee for governor, paused during a radio interview the morning after she won a crowded, chaotic primary. She wanted to acknowledge one factor that has catapulted her to victory: a recent endorsement of former President Donald J. Trump.
“We wanted to make sure we could bring the party together,” Ms. Dixon said Wednesday. “We wanted to make sure that we would be solid on the Republican side because we knew we were going to go in the General, we have to win independents and we have to win some Democrats.”
But even after a primary in which Ms. Dixon defeated her opponents by a wide margin, it seemed a formidable challenge to attract many voters beyond conservative Republicans as Ms. Dixon prepares to run against Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who is a candidate for a second term and receives the support. of an energetic base that wants to protect abortion rights.
Ms. Dixon, a relative unknown who was previously director of her family’s steel company, suffers from a lack of brand awareness in the state, even within her own party. And although she spoke on Wednesday about the importance of Republican unity, there was still one sign that she might struggle to bring the party together: After the primary results added up on Tuesday, one of her Republican opponents, Ryan Kelley, said, that he refused to admit.
Ms. Dixon will also have to deal with broader political forces. The sweeping rejection by Kansas voters on Tuesday of a constitutional amendment that would have banned or significantly restricted abortion by state lawmakers has further heightened issues of reproductive rights, which could be a particularly powerful problem in Michigan in the general election. Ms. Dixon has said that abortion should only be allowed if necessary to save a mother’s life, and that she would not support exceptions for rape or incest.
“This is going to be an epic battle,” Ms. Dixon said in a victory speech to supporters on Tuesday night.
In interviews across the state this week, Republican voters said they feared Ms. Whitmer would win a second term, but were concerned about Ms. Dixon’s ability to dethrone her.
Ms Whitmer has come under criticism from conservatives over soaring inflation, her handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the constantly dilapidated state of Michigan’s roads. But the governor is entering the general election campaign with solid popularity in the state — her approval rating was 55 percent in a July poll conducted for The Detroit News — and a base of Democratic voters outraged by an impending threat to abortion rights.
Abortion is legal in Michigan, but conservatives are pushing for enforcing a 1931 law banning the procedure in nearly all cases. Ms Whitmer has taken the issue and made it a centerpiece of her campaign.
Dozens of voters interviewed in Michigan this week said they supported Ms. Dixon largely because of Mr. Trump’s endorsement.
At an elementary school in Sterling Heights, Michigan, two Republican voters on Tuesday struggled to remember Ms. Dixon’s name, even though they planned to vote for her. One man said he would vote for the candidate Mr Trump had supported — “the lady,” he said, though he knew nothing about her.
Fred Starcher, 61, a truck driver, said he had only recently heard of Ms. Dixon but hoped she would ease the financial burden on the working class. When gas prices were at their peak recently, he said, he paid at least $300 a month to refuel his Jeep, pouring into his savings to make ends meet.
“We’re almost up,” said Mr. Starcher. “I think she’d be for the blue collar. A Republican governor would make all the difference.”
Don VanSyckel, a board member in the Republican stronghold of Macomb County, said he preferred one of Ms. Dixon’s opponents in the primary, and was still unsure whether Ms. Dixon was right for the job.
“Michigan needs help. We need to bring back our small businesses and infrastructure,” he said. “I don’t think she has the deep managerial experience.”