Weighing Gov. Whitmer’s Odds of Becoming Joe Biden’s Running Mate

Whitmer for Veep? Here are the pros and cons.
whitmer vice president
Gov. Whitmer photograph courtesy of Gov. Whitmer // Photo illustration by Allison Kahler

As Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s national profile rose in March and April amid high job approval for her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic — and amid barbs from President Trump — presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden himself stoked speculation by telling MSNBC she’d been on his short list of VP picks for months. A ton of strategy goes into such a decision, although we do know the field is narrowed to women because Biden promised as much. Still, here are some pros and cons to chew on until he makes his announcement, probably sometime in August.

Pro: Whitmer could give Biden a big boost in the Midwest. Her approval ratings have been reported at or above 60% since the pandemic hit, and her presence on the ticket would likely secure a flip of the Wolverine State after Trump’s narrow win here in 2016. Her Midwest bona fides could help flip Wisconsin, too.

Con: Trump’s approval numbers in Michigan are already awful, and Whitmer will campaign hard for Biden either way (she’s a national Biden co-chair), so he probably doesn’t need this boost.

Pro: Whitmer could win over moderate, suburban, educated white female voters across the country — who could flip states such as Florida and Pennsylvania — because, well, she is one.

Con: If Biden wants to reassemble the Obama coalition of 2008 and 2012 and win over Bernie Sanders’ supporters, he needs a woman of color with more liberal positions than his own. That bodes better for California Sen. Kamala Harris, who supports something closer to Medicare for All than Biden, and for former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who could electrify black voters.

Pro: Whitmer was riding high in polls as a governor whose surefooted leadership may well have turned the tide of COVID-19 in Michigan after its early onslaught. Her command of her office helps voters imagine her as whatever passes for “presidential” these days.

Con: Michigan will be digging out of the economic and medical catastrophe of this pandemic for a very long time. Whitmer bouncing to seek higher office would mean dividing her attention when her state needs her most. It also would inevitably draw comparisons to 2008 GOP running mate Sarah Palin, another half-term governor who left her capitol to join the circus and was never quite the same.

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Steve Friess is news and features editor at Hour Detroit and a contributing writer for Newsweek. A Long Island native who earned a journalism degree at Northwestern University, Friess worked at newspapers in Rockford, Illinois, Las Vegas, and South Florida before launching a freelance career in Beijing, China, where he served as chief China correspondent for USA Today. After his return to the U.S. in 2003, he settled in Las Vegas, where he covered the gambling industry and the American Southwest regularly for The New York Times, Playboy, The New Republic, Time, Portfolio, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, New York magazine, and many others. During that time, he created and co-hosted two successful and groundbreaking podcasts, the celebrity-interview show The Strip and the animal affairs program The Petcast. In 2011-12, Friess landed a Knight-Wallace Fellowship for mid-career journalists at the University of Michigan. That was followed by a stint as a senior writer covering the intersection of technology and politics at Politico in Washington, D.C., In 2013, he returned permanently to Ann Arbor, where he now lives with his husband, son, and three Pomeranians. He tweets at @SteveFriess and can be reached at sfriess@hour-media.com.