Why Gretchen Whitmer’s stock is rising with Team Biden
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s rising profile during the coronavirus pandemic has boosted her stock with Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, with some allies making the case that she would make a perfect running mate for the former vice president.
Whitmer has been in the spotlight during the COVID-19 pandemic fighting to get her state — which has the fourth most coronavirus infections in the country — the medical resources it needs.
Biden allies, including major donors and longtime advisers, say they like her combative approach to President Trump coupled with her calm, well-spoken demeanor.
Whitmer’s stock is also rising because she governs a state Democrats saw slip away in 2016. Biden scored a huge victory over Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the Michigan primary, and Democrats are desperate to win the state back in the 2020 general election.
“There’s been a lot of talk about her internally,” said one source close to the campaign. “She has impressed a lot of people the past few weeks.”
“She would be a fascinating choice,” a major donor added.
Biden acknowledged this week that Whitmer is under consideration.
“She made the list in my mind two months ago,” he said in an interview on MSNBC.
Whitmer’s star began to rise nationally after she delivered the Democratic response to Trump’s State of the Union address in February. Party officials hoping to telegraph that they were ready to play again in Michigan and other key swing states saw the address as a win.
In her address, she slammed Trump’s economic message.
“It doesn’t matter what the president says about the stock market,” she said. “What matters is that millions of people struggle to get by or don’t have enough money at the end of the month after paying for transportation, student loans or prescription drugs.”
Now, as the pandemic wreaks havoc on the economy, the context of the general election has shifted. Whitmer’s experience running her state during the crisis is seen as increasingly relevant, Democrats say.
“A governor by definition is appealing,” said Philippe Reines, a longtime adviser to Hillary Clinton. “You don’t see anyone saying Senator X is handling this well. Governors are executives with different responsibilities that at this moment in time are more vital than a legislative background, no matter how impressive.”
“Most importantly, this pandemic is going to be with us long past November,” Reines added. “Either directly or its economic and societal impact. Having a vice president with firsthand experience to lean on would be hugely helpful.”
Biden has committed to selecting a woman to be his running mate and he is considering a handful of others.
Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris (Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) are among the names that come up the most in conversations, along more recently with Whitmer, according to sources who have spoken with the former vice president and his team.
Stacy Abrams, a rising Democratic star who lost the Georgia governor’s race in 2018, has also come up in conversations, the sources say, though not as much as some of the others.
Major Democratic donors and bundlers are also making their choices known to campaign officials.
“I think Warren is the better choice for the recovery as she brings an expertise to the economy but my guess is [Whitmer] may feel like an easier pick nationally,” one top bundler said.
Biden and his team will be discussing the selection more intensely this month, according to one longtime aide. And while they may have their own favorites, they will be forced to contend with several factors in their selection. For starters, they will need a candidate who will bring the sides of the party together.
House Majority Whip James Clyburn, who helped deliver a victory for Biden in his home state of South Carolina, has said he would like to see a black woman be picked as Biden’s running mate.
Black women in particular have been the bedrock of Biden’s campaign, giving him sweeping victories across southern states. In South Carolina, for example, Biden won 61 percent of the black vote, according to a Washington Post exit poll. By comparison, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), his rival for the Democratic nomination, received only 17 percent of the vote.
As a result, some Democrats say Biden should honor that support.
“There are scores of talented and qualified candidates, especially women candidates given Biden’s public commitments, to be a potential running mate for Joe Biden — Senator Warren and Governor Whitmer among that group,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne. “But any conversation about the Democratic vice presidency that does not start with a woman of color feels like a fool’s errand at this point — take it to the bank. Black voters carried Joe Biden to the position of presumptive front runner and that will not be forgotten as he considers his running mate.”
All the while, Whitmer continues to make headlines.
Last week, in a press briefing, she was singled out by Trump when he said he had a “big problem” with “the young, a woman governor” in Michigan.
Whitmer took to Twitter to quickly respond in a tweet that went viral.
“Hi, my name is Gretchen Whitmer, and that governor is me,” she wrote with a hand-waving emoji. “I’ve asked repeatedly and respectfully for help. We need it. No more political attacks, just PPEs, ventilators, N95 masks, test kits. You said you stand with Michigan — prove it.”
Still, Reines said it could be tough for a sitting governor to leave their state for the campaign trail in the middle of a global crisis.
“No way could she stay in office and campaign,” he said. “That is an utter impossibility.
“So she’d have to resign as governor during the worst health and economic threat in her state’s history? I tend to doubt that,” he added. “And even if she did, Trump and the GOP would shellack her as walking away from her state when it needs her most for her own personal gain.”
But some Biden allies say Whitmer is what Biden needs.
“She’s my number one,” one longtime ally said. “I think Whitmer is best for Joe Biden.”