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Correction: Congressman Dan Kildee's first name was initially spelled incorrectly. 

Unless another heavy duty candidate can be coaxed into the race, Gretchen Whitmer will be allowed to slide through the Democratic gubernatorial primary next year unchallenged and untested.

Mark Bernstein’s departure from the race earlier this week left Whitmer, a former state Senate leader, as the only candidate on the Democratic side of the ballot with a chance of becoming governor.

And despite widespread anxiety among Dems about Whitmer’s ability to win a statewide general election next fall, there doesn’t appear to be an alternative in the wings.

Congresssman Dan Kildee of Flint bailed out earlier this summer, miffed that Big Labor had not cleared the field and spared him an expensive and risky primary.

Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, who teased a run last spring during the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac policy conference, said after Bernstein’s withdrawal he doesn’t see himself as a gubernatorial candidate, though he could change his mind “in the 11th hour.”

Bernstein endorsed Whitmer on his way out the door, but Hackel refuses to do so just yet.

“I have a hard time supporting someone running for office who constantly berates another party or person,” he says.

Hackel adds that “coming back from Mackinac, I had a lot of people urging me to run. Every day someone asks me about it. People want this race to be more contested.”

That’s a sentiment shared by many Democrats, who fret Whitmer’s meager list of accomplishments as a lawmaker, failure to offer a positive message for the state and ties to worst-ever Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm will doom her in the general balloting.

There will be other Democrats on the primary ballot. One in particular, Abdul El-Sayed, a former city of Detroit health official, is campaigning hard to capture the unpredictable and perpetually aggrieved Bernie Sanders wing of the party.

But his name recognition is zero and despite his laudable efforts, it’s too early to consider him a serious contender, and he likely will never hit that point.

Democrats seem to have exhausted their list of big name alternatives. Yet their enthusiasm for Whitmer is still tepid.

Hackel doubts she can win Macomb County, considered the state’s pivotal swing district.

“Macomb still leans Republican,” he says of the county that played a key role in pushing Donald Trump into the Oval Office last fall. “Despite his goofy tweets and all the other stuff, people here still like Trump and the Republicans.”

Trump is the variable. If the mid-term election turns out a ton of outraged Democratic voters, it could be a slaughter for Republicans up and down the ballot. Whitmer might be able to coast in on the anti-Trump wave.

She also might be helped by the entrance into the GOP primary of state Sen. Patrick Colbeck of Canton Township, a tea party darling who is bound to tug the Republican primary way to the right and limit the party’s appeal to independents in the general election.

But for Democrats who still see little hope for Whitmer, they can wait a while longer to see what Geoffrey Fieger is going to do.

Nolan Finley’s book, “Little Red Hen: A Collection of Columns from Detroit’s Conservative Voice,” is available from Amazon, iBooks, and Barnes & Noble Nook.

nfinley@detroitnews.com

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