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Gretchen Whitmer isn’t popular in Detroit. She is running with little name ID in a city that she expects to turn out in droves in November to elect her as the next Democratic governor.

In fact, at a recent gubernatorial town hall on poverty I moderated at Martin Luther King High School, several Detroiters at the forum shared with me later that the event was their first encounter with her.

But a bigger problem for the likely Democratic nominee, who just got a significant endorsement from the United Auto Workers, is that her chances of exciting the base in Detroit will also depend on who her running mate is.

The qualifications of the individual, including his or her public service record, will be crucial in ensuring that voters in Wayne County and Detroit hand her the victory she is seeking. It won’t come easy.

Now as Democrats head to Cobo Hall on April 15 for their convention, talk about who will be Whitmer’s running mate is gaining momentum. And the name that some African-American party insiders and labor officials want is Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon.

A top UAW official told me Napoleon has the political chops to enhance the Whitmer ticket.

“Benny Napoleon’s vast community and government experience and his strong dedication to social justice will make him an invaluable part of Gretchen Whitmer’s ticket,” said Rory Gamble, executive director of UAW Region 1A. “He has a tremendous dedication and commitment to public service and to the working class people of Michigan.”

In fact, the campaign got a boost earlier on when Napoleon, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy announced their support of Whitmer as the top black elected officials in the county.

The thinking among those pushing for Napoleon is that the former Detroit police chief has a resume that will add heft to a Whitmer ticket.

They point to his law enforcement background and crossover appeal among ethnic communities, including Dearborn and other parts of the county, that they believe will be a strong matchup to Attorney General Bill Schuette, who is likely favored to win the Republican nomination.

Schuette, who is battling Lt. Gov. Brian Calley for their party’s nomination, has been endorsed by President Donald Trump and most recently by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

The Whitmer campaign has remained tight-lipped about its choice for a running mate. Yet whoever she selects could be a deal breaker for the campaign and will reveal a lot about her winning strategy going into the fall when both the campaigns hit a fever pitch. On the road and over the airwaves, the candidates will be expected to duke it out as they seek to close out an election where Trump, and the antics of his administration, will loom large.

But there is no guarantee that Trump will be the biggest factor in the gubernatorial election. Some state Democrats counting on such or expecting to make Trump their political bogeyman could be fooling themselves. Michigan is not Alabama, Virginia or Pennsylvania.

Michigan has its own unique set of challenges and has a completely different political biography, where the pendulum often swings the other way against the calculation of the political prognosticators.

It’s also important to remember that this is the state where U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, once deemed a political outsider, defeated the establishment candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential primary.

So anything is possible in the governor’s race.

Given that Whitmer is at a competitive disadvantage in terms of her struggling name ID in Detroit, the Democrats’ largest base, it would only make sense that her running mate is one with a significant political experience and demographic appeal.

bankole@bankolethompson.com

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

Catch “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on Superstation 910AM.

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