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Southfield — Former Vice President Joe Biden strolled into southeast Michigan on Wednesday to stump for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer, calling her a person of character in one of the most important races in the country, he said.

With his trademark smile, Biden greeted nearly every friendly face at Leo's Coney Island in Southfield, mugging for selfies and hugs, and eager for conversation as he attracted rock star attention. He touched on everything from his college days and previous elections he'd won in Delaware to his White House days and the importance of electing Democrats.

"This governor's race is a bellwether for the whole country," Biden said as Whitmer, her running mate Garlin Gilchrist, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and a phalanx of reporters stood by. "If you look at Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, I mean really and truly, this is going to determine ... the mood of the country, whether we're back. It's really, really important."

Then he turned to reporters and the crowd and said, referring to Whitmer: "You've got a good one here. She gets it. I'm really proud to be with her."

Dawn Medley, an associate vice president of enrollment management at Wayne State University, took off work early to greet President Barack Obama's partner in the White House. Medley crooned as she hugged Biden: "I've got a crush on you like nobody's business."

One of the owner's relatives even got a chance to talk to Biden by cellphone, telling the former vice president how she cried when she heard about the death of his son, Beau Biden, to brain cancer in 2015.

"Well, my son was the finest man I ever knew, but you're nice to say that," Biden said.

Mara Vandegrift, 20, of Austin, Texas; Emma Rooney, 20, of Grosse Pointe, and Maeve Skelly, 18, of Ann Arbor sat down with Biden for a long chat about their time at the University of Michigan, where he told them that the son of his head secret service agent played at Michigan.

Whitmer said she was grateful to have Biden campaigning for her.

"I look up to someone like Joe Biden, someone like Barack Obama, people that serve with dignity and honor, and made us proud, and even if you didn't agree with them you respected them," she said. "And I think that's important. Michiganders are good people who work hard and want government to work for them, and they want honest public servants. And I think character is an issue in this campaign and in our country right now."

Biden stumped for Whitmer, the former state Senate minority leader from East Lansing, weeks after her opponent, Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette received a visit from Vice President Mike Pence and a Twitter endorsement from President Donald Trump.

In a Detroit News and WDIV-TV (Channel 4) poll conducted last week, Whitmer opened up a nearly14-point lead against Schuette and has been attracting independents as well. The poll discussed the race with 600 likely voters for the November election.

Schuette's campaign criticized Whitmer, who earlier Wednesday told WJR radio host Frank Beckmann that pledging not to raise state taxes would be “foolish.” 

"She can’t take that pledge because she’d break it on the first day," said Schuette campaign strategic John Sellek. "Gretchen Whitmer will raise taxes on Michigan families who are barely recovering from the Lost Decade. You can take that to the bank.”

Whitmer told WJR she wouldn't make the no-tax commitment because she wants to ensure that state government services are adequately funded. 

Joyce Johnson, 59, of Southfield hugged Biden and took a selfie with him. She teaches eighth-grade U.S. history at MacArthur K-8 University Academy in Lathrup Village, and said it was an honor to meet Biden. Some of her students also were there.

"First of all, everyone loves and adores Biden," she said. "And then to have him endorse her, and we know that he has values. He's just really into the common man ... to have her be endorsed by him means a lot; it speaks volumes to her character."

lfleming@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2620

Twitter:@leonardnfleming

 

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