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Gretchen Whitmer says she won’t replace Biden. What happens if that changes?

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, wearing a grey jacket, speaks into a microphone
Whitmer has repeatedly vowed to complete her second term as governor while supporting President Joe Biden but hasn’t closed the door to a 2028 presidential bid. (Bridge photo by Simon Schuster)
  • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is a regular name in replacement wish lists for President Joe Biden on the ballot
  • Despite speculation, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says she supports Biden and has expressed no interest in a last-minute presidential run
  • All that said, what would it take to clear her path to the nomination? And what would happen in Michigan if she ran?

July 11: Hillary Scholten wants Biden to ‘step aside.’ Jennifer Granholm defends him
July 8: As Biden reassures Democrats, cracks emerge in Michigan’s united front

After President Joe Biden’s poor performance in Thursday’s debate, political circles are abuzz with “what ifs” and speculation about who might replace him in the unlikely event he bows out of the campaign. 

One of the most prominent names is Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who has said she absolutely, positively backs Biden and has no desire to be a last-minute replacement to take on former President Donald Trump.

Biden says he’s not going anywhere. Yet, speculation lives on — along with questions of what might happen should Whitmer somehow replace Biden.


The buzz grew louder Monday, when Politico Magazine quoted “someone close to a potential 2028 Whitmer rival” as saying she privately said Michigan is no longer winnable for Biden after Thursday’s debate. 

Hours later, Whitmer’s X account posted a succinct denial: “Anyone who claims I would say that we can’t win Michigan is full of shit.”


Whitmer has repeatedly vowed to complete her second term, which ends in 2026. 

She’s a national co-chair of Biden’s re-election campaign, but hasn’t closed a door to a bid for president in 2028 and has a memoir coming out next week that reads like someone with higher aspirations.

Here’s a thought experiment on what could happen, why and what it means to Michigan.

Could Whitmer replace Biden?

Sure. Anything is possible. But it’s not likely and would be exceedingly messy.

What obstacles are there if things change?

First, Biden would have to voluntarily announce he’s no longer running for reelection in order to open next month’s Democratic National Convention to new candidates. About 99% of pledged delegates are assigned to Biden, making him a lock for the nomination unless he withdraws and leaves those delegates to pick whomever they’d like. 

And again, there is zero indication so far that Biden has considered quitting the race. 

Second, Whitmer — or any other candidate — would have to win a fight on the convention floor to secure the nomination: 1,976 of the 3,937 newly-freed delegates would be necessary for the nomination. And if Biden were to drop out, other presidential aspirants such as Vice President Kamala Harris, California Gov. Gavin Newsom or Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker would likely emerge.

An open convention scenario hasn’t occurred since 1968, and it didn’t end well for Democrats in that election: Republican Richard Nixon beat eventual Democratic nominee Hubert Humphrey by more than 100 electoral votes.

What happens in Michigan if Whitmer runs for president?

Not much. 

Whitmer would likely continue to be governor throughout the campaign. There’s no rule in Michigan that prevents politicians from running for a federal or state office while holding another — they just can’t run for or hold two offices at the same time.

If all the stars were to align: Biden drops out, Whitmer decides to run, becomes the nominee and defeats Trump in the general election, then she would have to resign her post as Michigan’s governor. 


Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist would then take on that role until the term ends at the end of 2026. If Gilchrist then opted to run for reelection, he would be eligible to serve two more full terms.

Whitmer could also opt to resign earlier than Inauguration Day to leave the duties of Michigan’s chief executive to Gilchrist.

If she didn’t resign but lost the presidential election, she would still remain governor. 

All of that is a big, giant, if.

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