Gov. Whitmer skips Virginia campaign event after GOP criticism

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer skipped a scheduled campaign stop in Virginia Saturday morning after criticism from Republicans who argued she should be focused on the water crisis in Benton Harbor.

Whitmer's attendance was only tentative at the event in Arlington County ahead of Virginia's Nov. 2 gubernatorial election, said Maeve Coyle, communications director for Whitmer's campaign. On Friday afternoon, Democrats shared social media posts that said Michigan's Democratic governor would be going door to door to promote candidates in Virginia.

"She had a schedule change and was unable to attend," Coyle said Saturday morning.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks during an event with Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden at Beech Woods Recreation Center, in Southfield, Mich., Friday, Oct. 16, 2020.

On Friday, Michigan Republicans blasted the governor for the planned visit to Virginia nine days after issuing a directive her administration said would bring an "all-hands-on-deck" approach to elevated lead levels in Benton Harbor's drinking water.

The governor has set a goal of replacing 100% of the lead service lines in the southwest Michigan city within 18 months. And the state Department of Health and Human Services has expanded the availability of free bottled water in Benton Harbor.

"Gretchen Whitmer will put out-of-state politicians before Michiganders in crisis,” said Gustavo Portela, communications director for the Michigan Republican Party. “It’s remarkable that she has time to campaign but not answer any questions about why three years later people in Benton Harbor and other places across Michigan don’t have access to clean water.” 

Democrat Terry McAuliffe, the former governor of Virginia, is in a competitive race with Republican Glenn Youngkin to be the state's next governor.

Whitmer's office revealed Friday afternoon that the governor had been in Washington, D.C., for "high-level conversations with key decision-makers" on Michigan's "priorities."

Lead service lines in every community need to be replaced, Whitmer said in a statement on the discussions.

"This week, I had an opportunity to meet with national leaders to advance Michigan’s priorities," Whitmer said in a statement. "Our conversations centered on growing the economy, creating good-paying jobs and building up our roads, bridges and water infrastructure.

"We drilled down on two issues that are critical to Michigan’s families, communities and small businesses right now: lead service lines and the chip crisis impacting our auto industry."