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Whitmer traveled to meet in person with Biden

Craig Mauger Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer traveled to Delaware last weekend to meet with Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee’s first known in-person session with a potential running mate as he nears a decision, according to the Associated Press.

In this Sept. 12, 2018 file photo, former Vice President Joe Biden and then-Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer joke around with the cooks at Leo's Coney Island.

Whitmer, who is a national co-chairwoman for Biden's campaign, visited the former vice president last Sunday, according to two high-ranking Michigan Democrats who spoke on the condition of anonymity to the AP because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. The first-term governor of the battleground state has long been on his shortlist of possible running mates.

Two well-known Democrats in late July told The Detroit News that Biden's campaign had vetted Whitmer as a potential running mate. At the time, Southfield attorney Barry Goodman, a member of both Whitmer and Biden’s finance teams, said his understanding was that the first-term governor went through a "full vetting."

Flight records show a chartered flight left Lansing’s Capital Region International Airport for Delaware Coastal Airport at 5:33 p.m. Sunday and returned at 11:16 p.m.

In this Sept. 12, 2018 file photo former Vice President Joe Biden and then-Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer arrive at Leo's Coney Island in Southfield.

Biden’s pick for running mate may be one of the most consequential in recent times, given his likely intention, at age 77, to only serve one term and in light of the animus with which Democrats are pursuing the Oval Office, said David Dulio, a political science professor and director of the Center for Civic Engagement at Oakland University. There are pros and cons to nearly every candidate on the list. 

“It’s the most significant development in the Biden-Whitmer vice presidential dance that’s been happening for months,” Dulio said. “It’s one thing for presumed nominees to dangle names out there. It’s another thing to meet with them in person and get to that point in the vetting process.” 

The meeting with Whitmer may signal the end is nearing for Biden’s search, but the likelihood of her being chosen hinges on who else traveled to Delaware this week, Dulio said. 

“If it’s seven other individuals, it’s less important,” he said. “If it’s two, then we’re talking.”

Early reports detailing the criteria Biden was using to select a running mate didn’t exactly match Whitmer’s qualifications, said Matt Grossmann, a political science professor and director for the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research at Michigan State University. Whitmer lacks national campaign experience and a close relationship with Biden, he said. 

But she is a relatively popular governor of a swing state that will be integral to the November election, Grossmann said. And she won that position by engaging with voters on everyday issues that could also work on the national level.

“The things that allowed her to win the governorship in Michigan would definitely help in the campaign, especially a campaign largely based in the upper Midwest,” Grossmann said. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, her profile grew as she battled with Trump on the national stage, a role sometimes designated to running mates. 

“She’s basically able to attack Trump in a way that she still won some Trump voters in her election and she still has the support of some Trump supporters now,” Grossmann said.

Whitmer, 48, an attorney and a former state lawmaker who was elected governor in 2018, has been in the national spotlight since March as she's taken aggressive action to combat COVID-19. Her criticism of the federal response angered President Donald Trump, who referred to her as "the woman from Michigan" in March.

FILE - Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer sit with Aidan Horowitz, Richard Eaton and members of the Horowitz family during a visit to Leo's Coney Island.

In recent weeks, Whitmer's supporters stressed her high approval ratings and rise in the national spotlight since the COVID-19 ravaged the state this spring. 

The governor’s office declined to confirm or deny the trip.

“We don’t discuss her personal schedule,” spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said.

Biden’s campaign declined to comment.

While national attention has focused recently on other potential candidates, including U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, and U.S. Rep. Val Demings, D-Florida, Biden told WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids last month that Whitmer was still under consideration.

The former vice president has previously said he plans to pick a woman to be his running mate and is considering four African-American women. Some Democrats have called on him recently to pick a nonwhite woman as a national push to confront systemic racism continues.

But some Michigan Democrats have emphasized that if Whitmer, a white woman, became vice president, her lieutenant governor, Garlin Gilchrist II, could become the lone African-American governor serving at that point in the U.S. Gilchrist also would become Michigan's first Black governor.

Associated Press contributed.