If Biden taps Gretchen Whitmer as VP, what happens to Michigan government?

Speculation that Joe Biden will select Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as his running mate gained new steam in the past few days following reports the first-term governor had flown to Delaware for an in-person meeting with the Democratic presidential candidate. (Bridge file photo)

Update: Michigan Gov. Whitmer isn’t Biden’s VP pick but will speak at convention

LANSING — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has emerged as a top contender to be Joe Biden’s running mate, in part, because of her handling of the coronavirus pandemic in Michigan and her criticism of President Donald Trump’s federal response.

But Whitmer would have less time to fight COVID-19 at home if she joins Biden on the national campaign trail, even if that is largely virtual this year given the ongoing public health threat. That could mean new and added responsibilities for Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, who would succeed Whitmer if she became vice president. 

Over the next three months, Whitmer would “be spending most of her time running for vice president if she was selected, so that will mean a lot of state business gets done by other people in the interim,” said Matt Grossman, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University.  

“That’s not completely out of the ordinary but perhaps has more implications now.”


Speculation that the Democratic Biden might select Whitmer as his running mate gained new steam in the past few days following news reports the first-term governor had flown to Delaware on Aug 2 for an in-person meeting with the former vice president.

With Biden expected to announce his pick this week ahead of the Democratic National Convention, CNN’s Chris Cillizza on Monday ranked Whitmer as the third-most likely choice for the Democratic vice presidential nomination. 

He slotted the Lansing Democrat behind only Sen. Kamala Harris of California and former U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, both of whom are women of color.

“I have been loudly skeptical that, in this climate, Biden picks a white woman as his VP,” Cilllizza wrote. “I am still in that camp, but if he does, it appears Whitmer will be the choice.”

Vice presidential nominees almost never resign their current office unless or until they win election, so Whitmer would likely remain Michigan governor even if she steps back from her daily duties to campaign across the country, in person or virtually.  

Vice President Mike Pence was governor of Indiana when Trump selected him in 2016, and he finished his term before taking office with Trump in 2020. Likewise, Sarah Palin stayed on as governor of Alaska after John McCain named her his running mate in 2008.

If selected, Whitmer would be the first Michigander to win a major party’s vice presidential nomination. 

Gerald R. Ford served as vice president only after Spiro Agnew resigned the post in 1973, and he became president when Richard Nixon resigned the following year.

Whitmer would likely only resign as governor if she was on the ticket and Biden defeated Trump in November. And even then, she may retain the state post until early 2021, when she and Biden would be inaugurated.

Under a succession plan mandated by the Michigan Constitution, that would make Gilchrist the 50th governor of Michigan. He’d become the first African-American governor in Michigan history and the only current Black governor in the country. 

Whitmer supporters contend that dynamic could blunt some criticism from Black voters who are hoping to see Biden pick a woman of color, a possibility he has hinted at for months after promising to select a female running mate. 

Biden needs Black voters, and picking a white woman could send a “ripple in the Black community if he did not,” said Jonathan Kinloch, chairman of the 13th Congressional District Democratic Party in Detroit. 

Still, “Garlin Gilchrist would be an excellent governor,” he said. “There would definitely be excitement here in the state to have the first Black governor and [Whitmer] would have played a very huge role in making that happen.”

Gilchrist, 37, is a former software engineer and political activist who had never held elected office before becoming lieutenant governor. He’d be taking over the state with two years in the No. 2 role. 

“People who haven’t previously held elected offices can have more trouble when in office, both with the electoral side and with the governing side,” said Grossman of MSU. “ But coming into an administration that’s already built might be a little easier than doing it from complete scratch.”

The succession scenario would mark the latest step in a rapid ascension for Gilchrist, who lost in his bid to become Detroit clerk in November 2017 before Whitmer selected him as her running mate in August 2018. 

Two years later, there’s speculation he could soon succeed Whitmer as governor. 

“It’s true,” Gilchrist told Bridge in June, chuckling at the possibility while praising Whitmer for being “responsive to the people of Michigan” despite the national attention, speculation and Twitter attacks from Trump and his allies.

“If I’ve learned anything in the last three years of my personal and public life it’s that anything can happen, but what you can control is how you spend your time and energy, and what outcomes you choose to focus on,” Gilchrist said. “... If something happens in that regard for Gretchen Whitmer, I’m certainly humbly ready to serve the people of Michigan.”

If Gilchrist became governor, he’d serve out Whitmer’s current term which lasts through 2022 — and likely without a lieutenant governor of his own. 

The Michigan Constitution does not include a mechanism to replace a lieutenant governor who is promoted mid-term, according to a 1968 legal opinion by then-Attorney General Frank Kelley. 

Kelley considered the question when then-Gov. George Romney was preparing to resign and serve as U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Richard Nixon. 

Lt. Gov. William Milliken became governor when Romney resigned in January 1969, and he would go on to win re-election in 1970. While the constitutional office was technically vacant for nearly two years, the Michigan Senate spearheaded special legislation to appoint Senate president Thomas Schweigert to serve as “acting lieutenant governor” in 1969. 

If Gilchrist is promoted to governor, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson would be second in command and act as governor if and when Gilchrist left the state. Under the Michigan Constitution, Attorney General Dana Nessel would be elevated to third in command. 

How Whitmer would balance campaigning with governing amid a pandemic that has killed more than 6,200 Michiganders is “the $64,000 question” and could influence Biden’s decision, said Bill Ballenger, a longtime Michigan political observer. 

If she spent too much time campaigning, Republicans could attack her — and the Biden ticket, for abandoning the state in a “moment of peril,” he said.

“The real question is if she plays it as it goes to see what the progression of the disease is like and how much of a hands-on governor she has to be this fall. It’s uncharted territory. We’ve never had this before and there’s no way of knowing how this would be handled.”

Whitmer remains relatively popular in Michigan. In a late July poll of 600 likely voters by EPIC-MRA of Lansing, 57 percent of voters said they think she is doing a good job, and 42 percent polled gave her a negative job rating. 

Still, it’s unclear if Whitmer would give Biden much of a boost in Michigan, a state Trump narrowly won in 2016.  Biden is already polling well here — he led Trump 51-40 percent in the recent EPIC-MRA survey — and the research on home-state vice presidential effects is not very strong, Grossman said.

“If you think COVID is the issue of the moment, then [Whitmer] would be a pick that helps highlight that and draws a firm contrast with the president,” he said.  

“The traditional role of a vice presidential nominee is to attack the other party’s presidential nominee. I think she’s shown herself to be pretty good at that.”

Whitmer has criticized Trump’s COVID response repeatedly, but Republicans also say she also has much to answer for on her coronavirus policy on nursing homes, which account for a third of the state’s deaths.

Governor for two years, Whitmer lacks some of the foreign policy and executive experience of other vice presidential possibilities.

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Mon, 08/10/2020 - 4:46pm

I really don't think there is any possibility that she will pass his sniff test. She is far too old for him and he's already smelled so many others and given them the grope of approval, she doesn't have a chance.

Tue, 08/11/2020 - 8:42am

Those are asinine disrespectful comments regarding both Biden and Whitmer. You sound like a Pete Lucido fan, if you aren't Pete. Not sure how such comments make it past the Bridge comment policy.

Tue, 08/11/2020 - 3:40pm

But still so true. But yeah, I'm surprised the leftist 'we aren't biased' folks allowed that.

Tue, 08/11/2020 - 6:48pm

Factoid, is that you? Give it a rest.

Tue, 08/11/2020 - 6:57pm

Disrespect? Like every media outlet and Trump hater do to our president every day? Lol.
Anyway, check the latest news - I was right - She didn't even get pass the sniff test! HAHA!

Tue, 08/11/2020 - 11:19am

Hey Factoid, Do you feel the same about Peter Lucido?

Tue, 08/11/2020 - 3:40pm

I love the guy. The hacks tried to cancel him and failed.

Wed, 08/12/2020 - 10:45am

Get a room!

Tue, 08/11/2020 - 7:02pm

My wife and I are actually registered democrats, I may or may not have commented on that before. So we had to look this Peter guy up. Never heard of him, wikipedia says there was some controversy but we have no idea what the background is.
Funny that you would instantly assume we are republicans. Is it not possible for you to fathom the idea that a democrat might not like this creepy, child-groping weirdo named Biden?
It looks like we won't be voting in this election. Very dissapointing.

Andrea Weaver
Mon, 08/10/2020 - 5:21pm

While I doubt any governor has responded to the Covid-19 pandemic in a flawless way, Governor Whitmer has done well, in my opinion. And if a major criticism of Republicans, as cited in this Bridge article, is that residents of nursing homes make up a third of Covid-19 deaths in Michigan, then maybe Gov. Whitmer is doing better than I thought.

According to analysis by the Wall Street Journal, as cited by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, as of mid June nursing homes accounted for 43% of US Covid-19 deaths (https://www.cidrap.umn.edu/forward?path=node/188096 ). So either Michigan is doing better than the US average, perhaps partially due to Governor Whitmer's policies, or maybe Republicans are aware that the situation has changed since then.

While the loss of any person to Covid-19 is lamentable, data from CMS (https://data.cms.gov/stories/s/COVID-19-Nursing-Home-Data/bkwz-xpvg/ ) shows that Michigan is doing better than could be expected in regard to deaths of care home residents, given the overall number of illnesses and deaths in Michigan. According to current data (accessed August 10, 2020) available from the CDC, Michigan ranks 9th in deaths per 100,000 residents of the general population, behind six states, New York City and the District of Columbia (https://www.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#cases). When you consider cases in nursing homes, however, Michigan fares better, ranking 12th in the average number of deaths per 1,000 residents (data from CMS for the week ending July 26, 2020: https://data.cms.gov/stories/s/COVID-19-Nursing-Home-Data/bkwz-xpvg/). So it would appear that actions taken by Michigan's governor may have had a positive effect in protecting Michiganders who reside in care facilities. Or perhaps management and staff did a better than average job of keeping their residents safe. Or perhaps residents of Michigan nursing homes are healthier than average. In any case, this criticism of Governor Whitmer is less damaging than Republicans might wish.

Kevin Grand
Mon, 08/10/2020 - 7:03pm

That is one big "what if".

If anyone thought that we didn't like her here in Michigan, just wait until they get a good look at the reaction to her numbers outside of Michigan.

And the democrats honestly think that THIS is a suitable replacement?


On second thought, go for it Gov. Whitmer.

Not only will we get a new governor in '22 either way, but I'll eagerly look forward to the re-election of our president for four more years!

Tue, 08/11/2020 - 8:45am

Meanwhile the Michigan legislature will probably still be shut down with covid scares and infections, not plan to meet with Zoom, just stay on vacation and get paid for doing nothing, right Kevin?

Tue, 08/11/2020 - 3:04pm

Most polls show Whitmer has a majority approval rating with Michigan voters while Trump has a majority disapproval rating.

Kevin Grand
Tue, 08/11/2020 - 5:56pm

Let me repeat this very slowly for you, MW.

O-U-T-S-I-D-E o-f M-i-c-h-i-g-a-n.

Outside of Michigan, Gov. Whitmer is viewed with equal disdain as Gov. Newsom of California, Gov Cuomo of New York or Gov. Pritzker of Illinois.

Don't believe me? Explain why is it that people are voting with their feet?




And, if you don't think that the DNC isn't equally aware of that little detail regarding the governor of Michigan.

Regarding Pres. Trump "disapproval" ratings, remind me again of how well Hilary Clinton was to have resoundingly won the '16 Election according to those same irrefutable polls?

Wishful thinking from pollsters don't actually win elections.

Tue, 08/11/2020 - 6:50pm

Yes! GOP only traffics in factoids, not facts.

Wed, 08/12/2020 - 8:26am

Ahh, yes! The same polls that showed Hillary winning the presidency in a landslide! Lol!!!
Did you know that the sky is green? CNN said so. It's definitely true.

Great hands
Tue, 08/11/2020 - 9:13am

Republicans could attack Whitmer for abandoning her state????? OMG We have a president exchanging love letters with our enemies, enemies who have put bounties on our troops. Republicans have NO CREDIBILITY. Why do we pretend that Republicans care about our country?

Yes, Whitmer may have less time to fight COVID-19 at home if she joins Biden on the national campaign trail, BUT as you so rightly state, her work will be virtural AND, if Biden is elected, Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist will be in charge. There is no reason Gilchrist can't provide massive support now which I'm sure he is already doing, if not essentially take over most control, good practice as Whitmer's able apprentice while she is there.

With Gilchrist, Benson, and Nessel, we are in great hands, not so much with our useless legislature. What is the legislature doing to support children going back to school, either in person or online. Most will be going back online, until further notice. They will need support services. GOP please get off your asses and do something! Someone please tell me something useful the legislature has done in the last two years.

Jake K
Tue, 08/11/2020 - 9:13am

We can only hope that Whitmer is chosen...and that her entire administration is "One and Done!"
I have the opportunity to travel amongst the surrounding Great Lake States and the luxury of hearing other governors speak to/with their constituents. Governors Holcomb and DeWine are impressive. I will purposefully tune in to their press conferences, while I will avoid all of Whitmer's. If the national Democrats want her to be on their team, they certainly deserve her. Unfortunately, BLM will certainly object. A White woman of privilege being given the VP candidacy? Won't happen. Too bad.

Tue, 08/11/2020 - 6:51pm

Sounds a bit like a personal problem.

Tue, 08/11/2020 - 9:35am

I am confused as to how anyone would think that Whitmer is doing a good job for Michigan. She said she wouldn't raise taxes if elected, then tried and got shut down by the State congress. So she retaliated by cutting millions from the budget including millions for Autistic children because she was mad at not getting her way. She punished small businesses while letting the big box houses sell the same thing. She alone arbratraily picked winners and loser in her "essential/nonessential" game. She told state employees to take the federal unemployment by furloughing them for one day while non state employees who were really hurting, couldn't get unemployment. Her minion Nessel, picked mussels over people and contributed to the reason the dams broke in mid Michigan. She tried to make an example out of a man in his 70's who dared to want to keep making his own money at this barbershop. Gyms STILL aren't open, many businesses are still closed...she has ruined our economy. AND she willfully put covid people BACK INTO NURSING HOMES! The total dead is much more than reported as they quit counting the people who were taken to the hospital and died there. People should start a class action suit over that and not being able to see their loved ones. Whitmer is the most arbitrary governor we have had...and over 160 executive orders? Sorry...I thought Michigan was run like a democracy with elected representation...NOT AS A DICTATORSHIP!

Tue, 08/11/2020 - 2:59pm

There are so many false statements here, put the kool-aid down.

Tue, 08/11/2020 - 6:54pm

I know, hilarious. Well, we not only get to keep Whitmer YAY!, but we also get Biden/Harris. Soon we will return to the good ol' days when Obama was president and we could sleep at night. I'm so F'ing sleep deprived.

Tue, 08/11/2020 - 9:46am

"If Biden taps Gretchen Whitmer as VP, what happens to Michigan government?"

Absolutely nothing will change, as she will return to Michigan on the morning of November 4th, right after President Trump's re-election.

Tue, 08/11/2020 - 6:55pm

In our worst nightmare.

Tue, 08/11/2020 - 6:56pm

AmericanVoter, your check is in the mail. LOL Just kidding, you know we destroyed the USPS!

Fed Up
Tue, 08/11/2020 - 12:52pm

While a lot of you are having a pissing match about Whitmer and Trump, why has no one actually touched on the fact that both parties only pick VP's that will get them votes instead of qualifications?? WHY does it have to be a particular gender, race, etc? I want most qualified!

Tue, 08/11/2020 - 6:58pm

Your wish is my command: Biden Harris 2020!

Wed, 08/12/2020 - 10:47am

Biden Harris 2020!