Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has been chosen by national Democratic leaders to deliver the party’s official response to President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on Feb. 4, a job often given to political leaders considered rising stars.
"Governor Whitmer's dedication to Michiganders is a model for public servants everywhere. Thanks to her tireless efforts, thousands more families across the state have access to quality health care, safer drinking water and the opportunity for a good-paying job," said Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer in a statement.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Whitmer is “a forward-looking leader who is laser-focused on solving problems for everyday Michiganders and is uniquely qualified to deliver Democrats’ message of progress for all Americans.”
The response to a president’s State of the Union speech comes from a member of the opposing party and is most often a member of U.S. Congress. Whitmer will be the 11th governor to deliver the address — others have included Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Tim Kaine of Virginia and Bill Clinton of Arkansas.
“Across the country, Democrats are staying focused on building a stronger, more sustainable country for future generations,” Whitmer said in a statement. “This response is an exciting opportunity to show the American people that not only are Democrats getting things done for them, but also for future generations to come.”
In addition to responding to Trump’s message, it’s an opportunity for Whitmer to highlight her initiatives in Michigan, spokeswoman Tiffany Brown told Bridge Magazine. “That would be the issues that we focus on: From cleaning up drinking water to improving education and skills training to fixing the roads. It’s a great opportunity to showcase the important work that’s already happening here.”
Whitmer was among a record-breaking number of women, mostly Democrats, who won election to statewide and congressional offices across the country in 2018. She decisively won in a state that went to Trump two years before, which many strategists have attributed to her focus on “kitchen table” issues such as roads, health care and drinking water — and argue may have modeled a potential path for Democrats hoping to win over states like Michigan and Wisconsin in 2020.
Whitmer represents a strategic choice for national Democrats going into the 2020 election season, said Matt Grossmann, director of the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University. She’s from the Midwest, a crucial swing region, and is not yet closely affiliated with any one Democratic presidential candidate.
The address is a big opportunity for ascendant politicians, but it is also “historically a mixed bag,” Grossmann said.
“It allows someone to gain stature and notoriety in the party nationally, but there have been high profile examples like Bobby Jindal (the then-governor of Louisiana), where the speech is not well-received and sort of retards the progress of the rise of the person giving it,” Grossmann said. “It’s a speech that it’s hard to please everyone.”
Brown acknowledged it’s a high-profile platform, but Whitmer is “solid in the work that she’s doing here and it’s a great opportunity to talk about that.”