Democratic candidates get bold during debate as primary approaches

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.-- Democratic gubernatorial candidates Abdul El-Sayed, Shri Thanedar and Gretchen Whitmer participated in a televised debate in Grand Rapids on Wednesday evening. With the August 7 primary fewer than 50 days away, the candidates made some of their boldest statements yet.

Making national headlines all week and kicking off the debate was immigration.

“I’m so thankful that no longer will the government be tearing kids apart from their families, but what they’ve replaced it with is indefinite internment camps," El-Sayed said. "It’s ridiculous.”

Whitmer said that as governor she would join other states in suing the federal government over the Trump administration's policy of separating children from their families at the Mexican border.

Shri Thanedar said his experience as an immigrant from India informs his stance on the issue. “I would have an immigrant-friendly policy," Thanedar said. "We need to encourage immigration, legal immigration.”

As for infrastructure, Gretchen Whitmer didn't hold back. "The average driver in our state is shelling out hundreds of dollars a year to fix tires or windshields from traversing our state like I have," Whitmer says. "It’s time to get serious about fixing these fundamentals. These are costs that are setting families behind."

Thanedar again drew from personal experience on this issue, saying the roads in Michigan are so bad that he's had car issues on his way to previous debates.

On Wednesday afternoon, Whitmer came under scrutiny from the Michigan Republican Party, which is calling for an investigation on a group called Building a Better Michigan, which is spending over $1 million on television ads for Whitmer, which critics say may violate campaign finance laws. However, Whitmer says she's not phased by the attack.

“The Republicans are attacking me. Big shock," Whitmer said to FOX 17. "The Koch brothers have spent -- they spent $2 million attacking me. They’re all doing this because they know I’m the strongest one going into November, and I’m going to win this race.”

Healthcare is a major issue on each candidates' platform. Whitmer brought up her work in the state Senate, giving hundreds of thousands of people in the state access to healthcare.

Earlier this month, El-Sayed introduced his "Michicare" plan, a single-payer plan he says would save the average Michigander $5,000 per year, which he says is something that will rally conservative voter support. “When you sit down with them and say, ‘How do you like paying a deductible? How do you like paying a copay? How do you having to bargain for the good that already pay for, which is your insurance, every time you have to use it?’ Nobody is like, ‘Yeah I love that.’”

While Thanedar said he supports a single-payer system, he said it needs to be done at a federal level first. “I support Bernie Sanders. I support his ‘Medicare for All,’ and that is the right thing to do," Thanedar said to FOX 17. "This needs to be done, and as a governor, I will work with our congressional delegation to support that, and we need to make that happen at the national level.”

FOX 17 will be featuring profiles on each major candidate in a Get To Know the Candidates series. The next installment will feature Republican Jim Hines on Sunday on FOX 17 News at 10.

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