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Lansing – Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, the first high-profile candidate to declare for Michigan’s 2018 gubernatorial election, is also the first to pick up a high-profile endorsement in the race.

EMILY’s List is backing Whitmer for governor, the political action committee announced Tuesday. The Democratic group focuses on helping female candidates across the country who support abortion policies and claims to have raised more than $500 million since its founding in 1985.

“Gretchen is the proven fighter Michiganders need as their next governor,” EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock said in a statement provided to The Detroit News ahead of nationwide release.

“Gretchen has consistently fought for the most vulnerable and led the way in finding bipartisan solutions to support and revitalize Michigan’s economy,” Schriock continued. “She has worked to expand access to affordable health care, defended women’s reproductive rights, and has demanded greater government transparency so that a tragedy such as Flint’s water crisis never happens again.”

The endorsement is an early boost for Whitmer, a former state Senate minority leader from East Lansing who worked as interim Ingham County prosecutor before announcing her gubernatorial campaign in January.

At least seven major-party candidates have filed to run for Michigan governor next year ahead of the April 2018 filing deadline and August primaries.

Democratic hopefuls include Abdul El-Sayed, a Rhodes scholar and former executive director of the Detroit Department of Health & Wellness Promotion. U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, is also considering a bid and would join Whitmer as a likely front-runner for the nomination.

On the Republican side, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and Lt. Gov. Brian Calley are both considering campaigns to replace GOP Gov. Rick Snyder.

Declared GOP candidates include Jim Hines, a Saginaw-area obstetrician who has never held political office but has already spent more than $160,000 of his own money on the race.

Whitmer said she was “honored” by the endorsement.

“They understand what's at stake for Michiganders, and I’m glad they share our belief that Michigan deserves a leader who will fight for quality education, good-paying jobs, access to affordable health care and a government that works for the people again,” she said in a statement.

joosting@detroitnews.com

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