Finley: Weighing the odds of Whitmer as veep

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News
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While I still think it's a long shot, I believe there is a genuine possibility that Gretchen Whitmer could end up as Joe Biden's pick for vice-president on the Democratic ticket.

There are a number of qualities that recommend the Michigan governor — not the least of which is just that: She's the reasonably popular governor of Michigan, a key battleground state in the fall election.

Whitmer met with the former vice president last weekend at his Delaware compound, moving her back into the veep speculation sweepstakes and explaining a very active week by the governor of issuing edicts and publicly lambasting President Donald Trump.

Her skill as an attack dog may have strong appeal to Biden, who is having trouble articulating verbal jabs.

Gubernatorial running mate Garlin Gilchrist, former Vice President Joe Biden and Michigan Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer arrive at Leo's Coney Island in Southfield.

Whitmer, at 48, would bring a bit of youth to a ticket topped by a septuagenarian. And she performs well in the spotlight.

Her downsides are obvious. She's had little experience on the national stage, although she did raise her profile during the COVID-19 crisis with a well-organized public relations campaign.

In just 19 months as governor, her accomplishments are unremarkable. She's not been able to formulate a clear agenda, let alone move one through the Republican-controlled Legislature. 

Whitmer has no background in foreign affairs and has not demonstrated a deep grasp of economics.

The governor is not prepared to take over as president should something happen to Biden, which, despite his weekend bike ride, is far likelier than with most new presidents.

In terms of qualifications, the one she meets most is that she is a woman, and Biden has promised to pick a woman as his running mate.

But she's not a Black woman. Biden has allowed expectations to rise over the past couple of months that he will place the first Black woman on a presidential ticket. 

African-Americans don't seem to be in the mood this time to be teased and then disappointed again.

Over the weekend, Pamela Pugh, a Democrat and vice president of the state Board of Education, joined 700 other African-American women in demanding Biden select a Black woman, and attacking Whitmer's record and qualifications.

"As a Michigan statewide elected official, I stand united with Black women and others from across this country who demand presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, select a Black woman as his running mate," her letter reads.

"Governor Whitmer has often reneged on campaign promises. Here in Michigan, our communities have had to exhaust great energy and resources to convince her to do what’s just and right even though Black voters decisively carried over the finish line to get her elected."

The letter from Pugh specifically accuses Whitmer of trying to disband the largely African-American Benton Harbor school district.

The backlash a Whitmer pick would generate in the Black communities would be an immediate distraction, similar in many ways to the one John McCain faced after selecting Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Biden would find himself dodging criticism for not picking an African-American woman, rather than being celebrated for making an historic pick.

Whitmer comes from a wealthy family and has little in common with the African-American voters whose absence from the polls in 2016 helped defeat the out-of-touch Hillary Clinton. Nor does she connect with the blue collar voters Biden needs to woo back from Trump.

Some Michigan Democrats believe Black voters might be soothed by the fact Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist would become Michigan's first Black governor should Whitmer rise to vice-president.

That may matter to Black voters in Michigan, but why would anyone in Ohio, Wisconsin or Pennsylvania care?

Alienating the African-American vote is a risk Biden can't afford. He's made selecting a Black woman unavoidable with his serial insults of Blacks over the past several weeks. 

Selecting Whitmer might feel like a pile-on to those offended by his insensitivity.

But again, don't rule it out. Biden shares at least one thing with Donald Trump — unpredictability.

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