Kildee, Whitmer boost profiles for possible gov runs

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Philadelphia — Michigan’s 2018 gubernatorial race is beginning to take shape more than 600 miles from the state Capitol, where U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee and former state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer are boosting their profiles with potential supporters here at the Democratic National Convention.

Kildee, the second-term congressman from Flint Township, and Whitmer, the interim Ingham County prosecutor from East Lansing, had expressed interest in the state’s top elected job before the convention. They both hosted events here for fellow Democrats.

Gretchen Whitmer

“I’ve very seriously looking at running for governor,” Whitmer told The Detroit News on Monday as she hosted a breakfast for Michigan delegates at their convention hotel in suburban Philadelphia, where her name adorned placards on each table.

“My girls will be in high school, and as I think about where we are as a state, and I see so many of my friends and colleagues’ kids move out of Michigan, I think it’s really a critical time for us to demand better from our government and demand a state where young people want to live and can live,” she said.

Kildee, who has stepped into the national spotlight as he battles the water contamination crisis in his hometown, was set to host a Tuesday private “thank you” luncheon for Michigan delegates. He is expected to speak Wednesday at a panel discussion about the Flint water crisis at the University of Pennsylvania.

His decision on a run for governor will ultimately come down to what role he thinks gives him the best chance to pursue a “big and bold” agenda for Michigan, Kildee told The News during an interview at the bustling Reading Terminal Market in downtown Philadelphia.

Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich

“That’s one of the reasons I ran for Congress, and it’s one of the reasons when the time comes I’ll give a lot more thought to running for governor,” he said. “If I think that’s the best way, and if I think there are enough people who are willing to sign on to a big agenda, then I’ll probably do it.”

Up for re-election this fall, Kildee intends to give the governor’s race more thought after the 2016 election cycle. He is expected to win in the overwhelming Democrat-leaning 5th Congressional District.

Whitmer said she expects to decide on a run in the first quarter of 2017.

The Duggan factor

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, who is expected to speak Wednesday at the national convention, remains a potential candidate but reiterated this week that he does not plan to throw his hat into the ring.

“I will not be a candidate for governor in 2018,” Duggan told The News outside the Alla Spina restaurant in downtown Philadelphia, where he co-hosted a Sunday evening private welcome party for Michigan delegates. “You don’t need to ask me anymore. Dan Kildee is in there, go talk to him.”

Kildee previously suggested Duggan could affect his own decision to enter the race.

“He’s told me face-to-face that he’s not running,” the congressman said Monday, “so I don’t have any reason to doubt him.”

Republicans who could look to succeed GOP Gov. Rick Snyder are already building war chests for potential use in 2018. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette of Midland raised roughly $300,000 between Jan. 1 and July 20, while Lt. Gov. Brian Calley of Portland raised close to $168,000.

Whitmer raised $33,850 during the first half of 2016 for a leadership committee created during her time in the state Legislature, according to a recent campaign finance report. The Whitmer Leadership Fund had $39,724 in the bank as of July 20, a sum that could be used to seed a gubernatorial campaign.

Kildee has not formed a committee to raise money for a state-level race. But under state law, he could transfer money from his congressional committee fund to a statewide committee for a statewide race -- a move U.S. Rep. Candice Miller made recently in her bid to become Macomb County public workers commissioner after she retires from Congress.

Despite the fundraising head-start for potential Republican candidates, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell of Dearborn said it is far too early to make any bets on the 2018 gubernatorial race.

“They’re all clearly interested in it, but who becomes the real candidates and who’s viable will become much clearer after the inauguration of the new president,” said Dingell, a longtime Democratic Party insider. “It’s way too early to know who’s going to be viable and if everybody’s in it that’s interested.”

Kildee or Whitmer would “both be great,” she said, a comment echoed by former Gov. Jim Blanchard, who remains active in party politics.

“They’re both good, “Blanchard said. “There’s always talk of Mike Duggan, but his people have said they will tolerate no discussion of that, and I take them at their word. I’m optimistic about two years from now. There are a lot of reasons for that, but good candidates always help.”

Whitmer said her decision will not be influenced by any other candidates who may get in the race.

“It’s a herculean undertaking, and so I want to make sure that we’ve got a vision that makes sense for people in Michigan,” she said. “I would never run just out of ego or boredom. I only vote for people who have a real vision and are willing to work to achieve that vision, and that’s not simple.”

Kildee said the state’s response to the Flint water crisis could motivate him to run. Residents in the majority-minority city continue to rely on filtered and bottled water due to elevate lead levels in the municipal supply.

Kildee criticized that response despite the approval so far of more than $230 million in state aid, a sum he said does not come close to matching the magnitude of the crisis, which Gov. Rick Snyder’s task force blamed primarily on the state. While Congress has not yet finalized any relief funding measures, he said federal agencies have made sizeable investments in Flint.

“I can’t sit by and watch this sort of – it’s hard to even find the right words – but this dismissiveness, this carelessness, this thoughtlessness and ambivalence about real people facing a huge challenge,” Kildee said.