DETROIT -- Gov. Gretchen Whitmer approached the podium in Motor City Casino's Sound Board Theater in a hot pink power suit at 1 a.m. Nov. 9 to accept her governance. She was welcomed with the crowd cheering as she hugged and high-fived advocates en route to make her speech. A gold button attached to her blazer gleamed over her heart, "Ban's Off Our Bodies," as she spoke to the audience.
"We are thrilled at the unexpected high turnout, we are thrilled that the three ballot initiatives got passed, and I never thought I'd be so happy about Fox News, but I'm glad they called this election, too," she quipped to laughter.
"The prospect of leading this state for four more years is something we are incredibly grateful and excited about," the governor continued. "Regardless of who is in office, we will always work with anyone who wants to solve a problem because there's nothing more important than the people of this state."
Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II will get a second term in office. The Associated Press called the hotly contested gubernatorial race for the incumbents around 1:20 a.m. Wednesday -- more than five hours after polls closed.
With all 83 counties reporting Wednesday, Whitmer led Republican rival Tudor Dixon 54.47% to 43.94%, according to unofficial results posted by the Michigan Secretary of State.
Entrepreneur Keyon Clinton has worked personally with Gov. Whitmer on numerous projects, he said. At Whitmer's election watch party in Detroit on Tuesday, Clinton proclaimed himself an advocate.
"We love to support the people that actually stand by what they say," Clinton said. "I believe she (Whitmer) is one of them that's in office that's genuine, she's a good-hearted person, but more importantly the things that she promised us before she got into office -- she's actually [fulfilling] those promises. That's what we care about the most."
Where does he see the future under Whitmer?
"I believe more jobs, and more opportunities for small business owners who are out in the field, who are making Michigan look great in the things we are doing," Clinton said. "I think those will be the two top things that we will see more of, and that we need more of."
Clinton said a great governor is someone that is not afraid to listen and be a part of the community, and he believes Whitmer embodies that.
"You know, you're not going to make everybody happy, some people are going to love you and some people are going to hate you. Either way if you stick to what your mission is and the people that voted for you believe in, I think that is going to put you in a great position as a leader, and as a governor," Clinton said.
In 2018, Whitmer was elected as Michigan's 49th governor. She took office Jan. 1, 2019, and in the last three years she has signed over 900 bipartisan bills and four bipartisan budgets in order to deliver on kitchen-table issues, grow the economy and create "good-paying" jobs in each region of the state, according to Michigan.gov.
Michigan.gov said Whitmer has, "made the largest education investments in state history four years in a row." She reportedly delivered the highest state per-student funding ever, increased on-campus mental health resources and helped hire thousands of teachers. According to Michigan.gov, Whitmer has also expanded low- to no-cost child care to 150,000 kids and enrolled 35,000 4-year-olds in affordable pre-K.
As for taxes, according to Michigan.gov, Whitmer has not "raised a dime." She reportedly cut taxes for small business owners, paid down almost $14 billion in debt and brought Michigan's "rainy day" funding to $1.6 billion.
Meanwhile, she also invested $4 billion to provide clean drinking water for Michigan communities by upgrading drinking water infrastructures and replacing lead service lines, which in the end supported 57,000 jobs, according to Michigan.gov.
After a year of being Michigan’s new governor, Whitmer had to make a string of decisions regarding COVID-19. In the end, Whitmer said her priority was saving lives, according to Bridge Michigan.
Michigan’s stay-at-home order reportedly lasted longer than almost all other states in the United States, and Michigan lost 1 million jobs and test scores were drastically affected, according to Bridge Michigan.
Dixon said Whitmer’s orders were too severe, hurting both the economy and the state’s K-12 students.
According to U.S. News, Michigan's COVID-19 death cases reached about 394,000 as of 2022, whereas Southern states that had fewer COVID-19 restrictions had higher death rates, such as Mississippi with 436,000 deaths, Tennessee with 410,000 deaths, Oklahoma with 433,000 deaths, and West Virginia with 420,000 deaths.
Although jobs were lost and student test scores deteriorated, Whitmer kept her word to prioritize the safety of Michigan civilians, the numbers show.
Jessica Smith, an advocate for Whitmer that attended the campaign party in Detroit on Tuesday said she has had the chance to meet Whitmer in person at the Labor Day Parade in 2018.
“She stopped to talk to my kids even though her handlers were trying to push her forward," she said, "and she took the time to be a good example for them and a positive influence. As a mother, she is the kind of person that can’t be faked. She genuinely cares about people, and I saw it myself and it would take a lot for me to change my mind.”
Influencer Myles Hardy believes the principles that Whitmer stands for is "very important" to the state of Michigan to make a difference.
"She's actually a politician that is for the people," Hardy said.
"I feel like she represents us as a whole, white, Black, hispanic, Arabic, she represents Michigan as a whole very well."
Who is Dixon?
Dixon, the Republican nominee for Michigan governor, is a former conservative news host and business woman, according to Bridge Michigan.
In 2009, she worked as an executive at Michigan Steel, her family’s business and has had experience launching a conservative student news service and a daily news program, "Real America’s Voice."
Dixon won the GOP primary with support from the DeVos family and an endorsement by former President Donald Trump. She received 40% of the votes between five candidates, which set up the competition against Whitmer for the Nov. 8 election, Bridge Michigan reported.
Dixon has spoken on behalf of Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was rigged by widespread voter fraud, and believes that Trump had won Michigan, although President Joe Biden won by 154,188 votes. Dixon claimed the election was stolen and accused Democrats of “sloppy” voter fraud, according to Bridge Michigan.
Bill Witte, a GOP member and volunteer, said he supports Dixon because he feels "we just keep going backwards" under Whitmer's leadership. He said he is opposed to Whitmer's stance on abortion.
Matthew Zhou, student chair of the College Republicans at the University of Michigan, said he supports Dixon because Michigan "needs fresh leadership." He said he was concerned with Gov. Whitmer's handling of COVID-19 and shortcomings from her promises to fix roads.
Garry Ringmalda, a supporter from Grand Rapids who helped Dixon’s campaign with fundraising, said he empathizes with Dixon as a business owner and he appreciates her education policy.
“She understands the difficulties of running a successful business and making payroll every week.”
After Whitmer was named Michigan’s governor-elect Wednesday morning, Dixon announced on Facebook that she contacted Whitmer's campaign and conceded the race Wednesday morning.
"Michigan's future success rests not in elected officials or government, but all of us," Dixon said in her statement. "It is incumbent upon all of us to help our children read, support law enforcement and grow our economy."
Co-news editor Patrick Bouman contributed to this article.