It’s not clear whether Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is a top contender to run for vice president alongside Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, but the possibility is certainly top of mind for Michiganders watching the national contest play out.
“People are excited and kind of flattered that she’d be considered, but do kind of feel like ‘Oh geez, do we want to give her up?’” said Abby Clark, president of Athena Strategies.
Whitmer has a rising national profile that dates back before she was thrust into the national spotlight for her coronavirus response strategy. She was called on earlier this year to give the Democratic response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech and has only grown her national profile since then.
Two weekends back, she reportedly flew to Delaware to meet with Biden, a signal to many that she’s on a shortlist of contenders for vice president.
Experts agree she’s in the running, but say she’s probably not in the very top tier.
“She’s probably somewhere in the middle of the list of potential running mates,” said Kyle Kopko, an adjunct professor at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania who studies the vice presidency.
Biden is expected to name a pick before Aug. 17, when the Democratic National Convention begins.
With that decision fast approaching, will it be Whitmer joining the ticket? Here are some factors experts say work for and against her:
He’ll pick a woman, and possibly a woman of color.
Biden has publicly committed to picking a woman for the ticket. Since the nation erupted in protests against police brutality after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, there have been calls for him to pick a woman of color.
Grassroots Midwest partner and CEO Adrian Hemond said two women of color are likely higher than Whitmer on Biden’s list: U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and former Obama national security advisor Susan Rice.
He rates it as “very likely” Biden will pick a woman of color.
Whitmer is white, but like Biden has placed a career-long emphasis on addressing issues that disproportionately impact communities of color.
At the beginning of the year, in her State of the State speech, she dedicated a portion of the high-profile address to announcing ways she aimed to tackle racial disparities in health outcomes for moms and babies. She followed that up last week with a directive condemning racism as a public health crisis. And that came after she intentionally assembled the most diverse cabinet in Michigan history.
Whitmer has good, but limited, national stock.
Clark has worked on the last three Democratic presidential campaigns in Michigan, and said one thing that seems to be fueling Whitmer’s rise initially looked like a negative at the beginning of the cycle: She doesn’t have a huge history on the national stage.
The campaign culture around former President Barack Obama’s runs was “no drama Obama,” she said, and if Biden plans to be in keeping with that, he may not want a vice presidential candidate who comes with a lot of inherent political issues or presents an easy target for Trump.
“There’s been a little drama around all the people who have been much-discussed, so I think that can make people anxious and say ‘well we should keep looking,’” Clark said.
Whitmer has continued her rise to national prominence over a mostly-commended handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which hit Michigan early among states.
She plays well in battleground Michigan.
After Trump won Michigan by 10,700 votes in 2016, Whitmer turned around a key gubernatorial contest on a much wider margin in 2018.
She’s polling strongly in Michigan now, too. An EPIC-MRA poll of 600 likely voters conducted July 25-30 found she had 57% favorability, compared to Trump’s 41% and Biden’s 46%. And 57% of those polled said she was doing an “excellent” or “pretty good” job.
Biden is eyeing several states with strong working-class demographics as a path to the presidency.
“I think she would be helpful in the upper Midwest, absolutely… certainly she’s helpful in Michigan and I think she’s helpful in Wisconsin, too,” Hemond said.
She could help balance the ticket.
Demographically, Whitmer is two things Biden is not: young and a woman.
Hemond said, “I definitely think there’s some things that she brings to the ticket, and the obvious sort of balancing factor is she’s relatively young.”
She also has experience being the state’s primary executive, he pointed out, whereas Biden’s executive experience is as Vice President.
Kopko said there historically isn’t a lot of value in choosing candidates of a particular geography, for instance, to round out the ticket. But where it has mattered, he said, is when a Vice President can fill in gaps the presidential candidate has in policy experience.
“That makes the ticket appear much stronger to voters,” he said.
Biden has been in public office so long, Kopko said, that he doesn’t have any obvious gaps. But if he wants to put a particular emphasis on issues of racial injustice and policing, it could help to bring on somebody with expertise in those areas.
She’s a forceful leader in a crisis. But she’s still in the middle of it.
Hemond says the vice presidential pick is unlikely to be any governor, as they’re in the middle of leading their states through a pandemic that’s unprecedented in recent history.
If that’s the case, he said, “You’ll immediately be attacked for abandoning your state during the pandemic.”
Republicans in Michigan have already been critical of Whitmer spending time on national issues.
Clark said there are a number of candidates who are key players in congress or in states.
“A number of these people are already in important jobs. Can we afford to lose them in those jobs?” she asked.