Lansing — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer won’t join Joe Biden on the Democratic ticket this fall, but she’s still expected to play an important role in his campaign.
Biden on Tuesday named Sen. Kamala Harris of California as his running mate to help take on Republican President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, ending speculation he could pick Whitmer or other candidates who had been vetted for the role.
The selection is historic: Harris, who also ran for president and sparred with Biden on race and desegregation busing policy during a June 2019 Democratic debate, will be the first woman of color to secure a major party nomination for vice president.
Whitmer’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the governor tweeted congratulations from her personal account: “I am extraordinarily proud to support @KamalaHarris and @JoeBiden! They will be a fierce team to Build America Back Better. #WeHaveHerBack.”
Whitmer will have a prime-time speaking slot at next week’s Democratic National Convention, a four-day event that will be fully virtual given the coronavirus pandemic.
She is set to speak during the Monday night program, which the DNC says will feature “Americans who are rising up to take on” COVID-19, economic turmoil and racial injustice. The opening night will be bookended by addresses from Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former First Lady Michelle Obama.
Former President Bill Clinton and Former Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden will headline Tuesday night, followed by former President Barack Obama on Wednesday. Biden, who served as vice president under Obama, will address Democrats on Thursday night and formally accept the party’s presidential nomination.
If Biden wins, he could still tap Whitmer for another job in his administration. But even if she stays put in Michigan, the process was good for her, said Adrian Hemond, a Democratic strategist with Grassroots Midwest in Lansing.
“Gretchen Whitmer certainly had her national profile raised, in large part because of the vice presidential chatter and vetting process, which is going to be great for her fundraising for re-election [as governor] and if she decides to run for U.S. Senate when [current Democratic Sen.] Debbie Stabenow is done,” Hemond said.
Michigan Republican Party chair Laura Cox, who has criticized the governor for keeping a vigorous national media schedule amid the pandemic, said Biden’s pick “is confirmation of what every Michigander already knew: Gretchen Whitmer just isn’t ready for the big leagues.”
Whitmer developed a close relationship with Biden this year and will likely play a prominent role in his campaign here this fall, especially if the polls tighten in a state Trump won by 10,704 votes in 2016. When she formally endorsed Biden ahead of Michigan’s March primary, the former vice president named Whitmer as a chairperson to his national campaign.
Speculation that Biden could pick Whitmer as his running mate reached a fevered pitch on Saturday after The Associated Press confirmed she had flown to Delaware to meet with the former vice president the prior weekend.
But the possibility of a Whitmer pick sparked backlash from African-American leaders — including several in Michigan — who expected Biden to pick a woman of color after hinting at that prospect for months. Harris is the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants.
Whitmer was not “vetted in the way” Black contenders were, “nor does she compare in qualifications,” Pamela Pugh, vice president of the State Board of Education, wrote in a Sunday op-ed for Black Star News.
“We should all be reminded that in 2016, with 94 percent of Black women voting for Hillary Clinton and 53 percent of White women voting for Donald Trump, we were the Democrats’ strongest voting bloc.”
Whitmer has already been playing an active role in state campaigns as she seeks to help Democrats retake the Michigan House, where Republicans currently hold a five-seat edge.
Building Bridges, a political action committee tied to the governor, has already given more than $200,000 to the House Democratic fund and individual state House candidates this cycle.