Lansing – Former Michigan Gov. James Blanchard did something Wednesday he hasn’t done since leaving office: Endorsed someone else in a gubernatorial primary.
Blanchard, a Democrat, announced he is backing former state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer of East Lansing for the party nomination in 2018. The endorsement comes one day after Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette announced his own run for governor.
“I haven’t really endorsed anyone in a Democratic primary since I endorsed myself,” Blanchard told The Detroit News, joking about his 2002 Democratic primary loss to former Gov. Jennifer Granholm.
It was a comeback attempt for Blanchard, who served as governor from 1983 through 1990, when he lost in the general election to former Republican Gov. John Engler.
“I think generally after eight years of one party in control, the voters kind of almost automatically turn to the other party, which is why we need our best and strongest foot forward,” Blanchard said, predicting a solid year for Democrats in 2018.
Whitmer is considered an early front runner for the party nomination in a field that includes former Detroit Health Director Abdul El-Sayed, Ann Arbor entrepreneur Shri Thanedar and former Xerox executive Bill Cobbs of Detroit. Southfield lawyer Geoffrey Fieger has said he is considering running.
Republicans have controlled all three branches of state government since 2011, when term-limited Gov. Rick Snyder took office after defeating Democratic nominee Virg Bernero, mayor of Lansing. In 2016, President Donald Trump was the first Republican presidential candidate to win the state since 1988.
Blanchard said he is endorsing early because so many people have asked him where Democrats should go next and who the party’s future leaders should be.
“So I’m saying all right, here’s my answer: Without a doubt, the strongest, best candidate for us is Gretchen Whitmer,” he said.
Schuette is the highest-profile Republican in the race, which includes state Sen. Pat Colbeck of Canton Township and Saginaw obstetrician Jim Hines. Lt. Gov. Brian Calley is also considering a run.
During his Tuesday night campaign launch in his hometown of Midland, Schuette did not mention any potential opponents by name but told his supporters that “Jennifer Granholm’s lieutenants want to take back control of our state in 2018” and warned of a “Lost Decade Two.”
Asked if he was referring to Whitmer or any other candidate, Schuette lumped all potential Democratic nominees together.
“I think that the Democrats, they’ll have their scrum right, and it’ll be some morphed candidate, a combination of Granholm, and Elizabeth Warren and Bernie (Sanders) and Clinton and Obama,” he told reporters. “But it’s so left.”
Blanchard, indicating he’s known Schuette for “many, many years,” said the attorney general “in most respects represents the status quo” in Lansing.
Whitmer, he said, has “a wealth of experience at the state and local government level” that would help her take Michigan in a new direction.
Blanchard praised her work negotiating with Snyder and GOP legislative leaders to expand Medicaid health coverage eligibility under the Affordable Care Act, as well as her work negotiating a state minimum wage increase Republicans backed to undermine a more aggressive petition drive.
While El-Sayed is aggressively courting young voters who backed Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in his 2016 presidential campaign, Blanchard said Whitmer is plenty “progressive” as well. He doesn’t like labels, though.
“I expect there will be a spirited primary,” Blanchard said, “but we want to talk about the future of Michigan, not about the defects of our fellow Democrats. I’m tired of that. I’m tired of litmus tests.”