The weekend before the 2016 election, my mother called and asked, “Well? Who’s gonna win? Trump or Hillary?”
I said, “Depends. If you think it’s a conventional election where the electorate is mostly people who normally vote, then Hillary wins. But if you think Trump really has pulled off the impossible and gotten millions who don’t normally vote out to vote, well, then Trump wins. But there’s no way you’re going to know until Tuesday. Pollsters will never see these new voters coming.”
The rest is history. The Trump team got to mid-afternoon Election Day and realized places like the Florida Panhandle, Western Pennsylvania, and rural Michigan were smashing their vote goals. Some counties had voted by noon at nearly twice the rate anticipated for the whole of Election Day. When Team Trump saw those numbers, they knew: The models were all wrong. They were going to win.
I thought of that conversation driving around my home state of Michigan last week. I wanted to attend some events, see candidates up close, and get a feel for what the enthusiasm levels felt like with the governor’s race coming up Tuesday between the incumbent Democrat Gretchen Whitmer and Republican Tudor Dixon. I also wanted to see Dixon on the stump for the first time.
Dixon is legit. She was engaged and on message, absolutely savaging Whitmer with a mix of earnestness and humor that’s hard to pull off. If she somehow wins, she’s an instant national rock star. But coming away from it, my biggest impression wasn’t about the governor’s race at all. It was about Proposal 3 and the effect it might be having on the larger campaign.
What’s Prop 3? It’s the most radical pro-abortion proposal on the ballot in America this year. According to the Michigan Catholic Conference, “It would allow abortions to be performed by anyone, at any point in pregnancy, and for any reason. It would throw away state laws regulating quality, safety, and inspections for abortion clinics. It would remove parental consent requirements for teens seeking abortions, and also teens seeking gender reassignment surgeries.”
The left has poured in millions from across America all year trying to get this thing passed. “As of Oct. 23, Reproductive Freedom for All, the coalition championing Proposal 3, had raised a total of $40.2 million, more than double the $16.9 million from the anti-abortion coalition Citizens to Support MI Women and Children,” Bridge Michigan reports. Conventional wisdom has been that it would pass for months.
But something stood out: There were more “NO ON PROP 3” signs across Michigan than I’ve ever seen for or against anything else in a Michigan campaign, including Trump ’16 and ’20. More importantly, the churches appeared to be activated in a way I’ve never seen before. In Michigan politics, the Catholic Church is always very active in speaking out about life issues, but mainline Protestant evangelicals, less so. Well, they’re off the sidelines now.
Not only did we see churches with “No on Prop 3” signs in their yards — it was on multiple church marquees. As in, “Services Sunday, 10 AM, all welcome. NO ON PROP 3.” Growing up in evangelical circles, that was simply not done. Consultants joke about yard signs, and rightly so, but this energy just felt different.
So what’s all this mean for Tudor Dixon and the governor’s race?
The city of Detroit clerk is already forecasting a turnout in the city of less than 30 percent. That’s what turnout was like in 2014 when Rick Snyder won. Meanwhile, if the churches really are as activated as they appear to be, then we might see presidential-level turnout in rural Michigan. That would mean thousands of conservatives who don’t usually participate in midterms coming out to vote “No” on Prop 3, and then voting to fire Whitmer. If it happens, just like in 2016, the pollsters will never have seen it coming.
Anemic turnout in Detroit, and energized, conservative rural areas over-performing. That’s the recipe for pulling an upset in Michigan.
By the way, what an absolutely delicious irony it would be if after six months of being lectured by the media about Dobbs backlash, and the tens of millions in dishonest attack ads against Dixon about her “extreme” abortion position, if Whitmer loses because of her own extreme abortion position.
Keep an eye on Michigan on Tuesday night. There might be an upset brewing there.