Tudor Dixon, left, and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
CNN  — 

Tudor Dixon, the Republican challenging Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, made light of the 2020 kidnapping plot against Whitmer on Friday, telling a crowd that the Democratic governor “sure is good at taking business hostage and holding it for ransom.”

During a pro-Dixon super PAC event in Troy, Michigan, Dixon criticized Whitmer for what the Republican characterized as burdensome business regulations. She said Whitmer is “not a businesswoman” and is a “politician with a law degree,” and then invoked the kidnapping plot.

A federal jury in August convicted two men of conspiring to kidnap Whitmer at her vacation home in 2020. They were also convicted of one count of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction after prosecutors detailed their plans to blow up a bridge to prevent police from responding to the kidnapping of the governor. The men now face a maximum sentence of life in prison.

“The sad thing is that Gretchen will tie your hands, put a gun to your head, and ask if you’re ready to talk,” Dixon said at the event, which was hosted with Kellyanne Conway, a former Trump White House aide. “For someone so worried about being kidnapped, Gretchen Whitmer sure is good at taking business hostage and holding it for ransom.”

Whitmer’s campaign and Democratic groups condemned Dixon’s remarks Friday.

“Threats of violence and dangerous rhetoric undermine our democracy and discourage good people on both sides of the aisle at every level from entering public service,” Whitmer campaign spokesperson Maeve Coyle said in a statement.

“Governor Whitmer has faced serious threats to her safety and her life, and she is grateful to the law enforcement and prosecutors for their tireless work,” Coyle said. “Threats of violence – whether to Governor Whitmer or to candidates and elected officials on the other side of the aisle – are no laughing matter, and the fact that Tudor Dixon thinks it’s a joke shows that she is absolutely unfit to serve in public office.”

After her comment drew backlash, Dixon joked again about the kidnapping plot at a second event Friday, this time with Donald Trump Jr., the son of the former President.

She told a crowd that, at a stop with President Joe Biden at the Detroit Auto Show last week, Whitmer looked like she’d “rather be kidnapped by the FBI.”

“Yeah, the media is like, ‘Oh my gosh, she did it again,’” Dixon said, anticipating the reaction to her second reference of the day to the 2020 kidnapping plot.

As she told the crowd that her earlier remarks about the plot to kidnap Whitmer had been characterized as a joke, Dixon said: “I’m like, ‘No, that wasn’t a joke.’ If you were afraid of that, you should know what it is to have your life ripped away from you.”

Dixon, pressed later Friday about her remarks making light of the plot, then defended them to CNN.

“I think when you’re being attacked every day, you have to have a little levity in things,” she said. “We can still have fun.”

The 2020 plot was foiled in part because FBI agents had infiltrated the group as it planned the effort to kidnap Whitmer.

“Show of hands – how many feds in the crowd? I just wanted to make sure there wasn’t some sort of, you know, federal kidnapping plot,” Trump Jr. said.

“You know, Gretchen Whitmer knew about it months in advance. But you know what, if we can get good PR from it, we can pretend like it’s real,” Trump Jr. said. “You know, the FBI can try to entrap a couple of meth heads somewhere and run with that narrative now.”

Dixon, a conservative commentator and businesswoman from Norton Shores, won Michigan’s Republican primary to take on Whitmer in August. She was endorsed in that primary by Trump and is supported by the family of former Trump education secretary Betsy DeVos – GOP mega-donors in Michigan.

The Republican Governors Association, the group tasked with raising money and providing infrastructure for GOP gubernatorial campaigns, declined to comment on Dixon’s remarks.

“Tudor Dixon’s comments are dangerous, an insult to law enforcement who keep us safe, and utterly disqualifying for the role of Michigan governor. Dixon’s backers in the DeVos family and at the RGA should condemn her dangerous extremism,” Democratic Governors Association spokesman Sam Newton said in a statement.

Polls have consistently shown Whitmer with a lead in the race.

That Whitmer lead is in part driven by a renewed focus on abortion in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s decision to end federal abortion rights. Whitmer has vowed to protect abortion rights in a state where Republicans control the legislature, and Democrats have successfully pushed for a referendum on this year’s ballot that would enshrine abortion rights in the state’s constitution.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat who is up for reelection in November, tweeted that Dixon’s “statement is repugnant.”

Whitmer, Nessel wrote on Twitter, “is the victim of a very serious plot to kidnap and assassinate her. Anyone who would make light of such an effort is not fit to hold public office at any level.”

This story has been updated with additional developments Friday.