In late 2017, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan circulated a memo encouraging labor unions and Democrats to find a better-known person than Gretchen Whitmer to run for Michigan governor in 2018, according to a magazine piece in The New Yorker.
Duggan wanted Sen. Gary Peters to run. The United Auto Workers union preferred Congressman Dan Kildee. Neither of them were interested.
Then while attorney Mark Bernstein of the Sam Bernstein Law Firm was watching a University of Michigan basketball game at Duggan's house, he said the mayor tried to persuade him to run for governor, the magazine reports. Bernstein, who is on the University of Michigan Board of Regents, passed and ended up endorsing Whitmer, the former state Senate minority leader.
Whitmer, who turns 52 in August, went on to win in the primary in 2018. She then beat her Republican opponent, Attorney General Bill Schuette, by a sizable margin, in a year that proved very fruitfuli for Michigan Democrats. She was re-elected last year in another Blue sweep in the state and will finish out her second and final term in 2026.
The information was contained in a flattering profile of Whitmer by Benjamin Wallace-Wells in the July 24 issue of The New Yorker titled "The New Blue Wall: How Gretchen Whitmer made Michigan a Democratic stronghold."
The piece only briefly touches on any presidential aspirations."I am not sitting in any room thinking about running for President, and anytime that comes up it's a distraction," she tells the author.
The story portrays her as politically savvy and bright and seems to help set the table for more national speculation that she's a viable candidate for president or vice president in 2028.
About the 2018 election, the author writes:
"The Republicans struggled to find a way to attack Whitmer, who had outmaneuvered a pair of Bernie Sanders-style progrdessives in the Democratic primary...Whitmer seemed relentlessly focused on those suburban moderates who were sliding away from the G.O.P."
The piece also quotes Tommy Stallworth III, a veteran Detroit pol who is now a Whitmer senior adviser:
"People think she's an intellectual, but she's not. She is a wartime consigliere."
David Axelrod, Barack Obama's senior adviser who has a house in Michigan, was quoted as saying:
"She's plainly smart, she's very agile. But there is a sense in which 'I might know a person like this.'"
The article notes that in a radio interview about the pandemic she concedes that some of the rules she implemented did not "make a lot of sense." But she added: "I think that deaths were the right north star."
The article does fail to mention some political missteps and embarrassments during the pandemic.
In May 2021, she had to apoligize for violating her own state-mandated social distancing guidelines at an East Lansing bar. The apology came after a photo on social media showed her sitting with about a dozen people at The Landshark Bar & Grill on Grand River in East Lansing. The pandemic limit at a table at the time was no more than six people.
Then she created a brief scandal when she flew down to Florida on a chartered flight owned by wealthy business people to visit her sick father during the pandemic in March 2021. The trip came at a time she and other governors were discouraging travel because of the pandemic.
Her story kept changing about the trip. First she refused to give details about the cost of the round-trip flight and who flew on it. She eventually came clean, but not before providing plenty fodder for the press and causing short-term political damage.
The New Yorker story ends with a quote from her about the political uncertainties of the Biden era and what the party needs to accomplish.
"Things are moving so fast right now. And, when you're moving fast, you can make a lot of progress or you can do a lot of damage."
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