Whitmer nets national attention while Michigan emerges as 2020 election prize

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
Gretchen Whitmer after winning the Democratic gubernatorial primary in August 2018. | Bill Pugliano/Getty Images
Updated, 10:50 a.m., adding reported visit by Beto O’Rourke.

It’s not terribly surprising, but Michigan has emerged as a top battleground state on the 2020 presidential election map with two big visits scheduled for this month — and a third reportedly in the works. And Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s key role again is getting attention from national political observers.

President Donald Trump is introduced on stage Saturday, March 2, 2019, at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) | Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour, Flickr

President Donald Trump announced Friday that he will hold a rally on March 28 at the Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids.

The Republican narrowly won Michigan by roughly 10,000 votes in 2016, which helped put him over the top in the Electoral College to defeat Hillary Clinton.

Beto O’Rourke, who unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate in Texas last year, is planning a Michigan swing this week, the Cleveland Plain-Dealer reported.*

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) will do two events on Monday: an MSNBC town hall at the Rochester Mills Production Brewery and Taproom in Auburn Hills and a Fems for Dems meet-and-greet at the Three Cats Cafe in Clawson.

While in Washington, D.C., for meetings last month, Whitmer tweeted invitations to declared Democratic presidential candidates to come to Michigan.

Kirsten Gillibrand

Gillibrand is the first to respond and Whitmer will be joining her in metro Detroit, the governor’s spokeswoman told the Advance. She has no plans to make endorsements for 2020.

The New York Democrat endorsed and campaigned for Whitmer in her 2018 gubernatorial race. Shortly after announcing her presidential campaign, Gillibrand gave the governor a shout-out while appearing on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

The Advance was the first news outlet to report in December, before Whitmer’s inauguration, that she had no interest in being on the 2020 ticket.

Here’s the complete exchange:

Michigan Advance: So I know you’re going to say that you’re focused on doing the job that voters elected you to do, but has …

Whitmer: I love your start, yes. [laughs]

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer at the Fiscal Year 2020 budget presentation | Casey Hull

Michigan Advance: … But has anyone approached you about being a potential presidential or vice presidential candidate in 2020, given your 2018 performance and the importance of Michigan in the Electoral College?

Whitmer: Not with any seriousness.

Michigan Advance: Is it anything that you are interested in?

Whitmer: No.

However, that hasn’t stopped the speculation.

Whitmer has caught the eye of several national political reporters, including Dave Weigel of the Washington Post and Matthew Yglesias of Vox. Given Michigan’s critical role in next year’s election, Whitmer is well-positioned to play king- or queen-maker, as the Advance has noted.

New York Times reporter Jonathan Martin, who keeps close tabs on Michigan, observed Friday on Twitter that Trump’s rally is scheduled in the once-GOP stronghold of Kent County, which Whitmer won last year.

That prompted CNN reporter Eric Bradner to note again that Whitmer would be a good vice presidential pick. When she was sworn in on Jan. 1, Bradner tweeted to “keep an eye” on the new governor, ending with #veepstakes, as the Advance noted.

Two other Democratic presidential candidates previously visited Michigan this cycle: former U.S. Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.) and former technology executive Andrew Yang, who’s become an Internet favorite, in part, due to Trump and so-called alt-right supporters, as the Daily Beast reported.

After her victory as Michigan Republican Party chair last month, former state Rep. Laura Cox noted that Michigan will be critical for Trump in 2020.

Laura Cox | Facebook

“It’s very important,” Cox said at the time. “Michigan is on the radar. It is his pathway to win, and we want to make sure that we deliver that in the Michigan Republican Party.”

On Friday, Cox said in a statement that she’s “thrilled” Trump is returning to Grand Rapids.

“This visit is proof that the president is making Michigan a priority in 2020 and the Michigan Republican Party will do everything in our power to deliver our state’s 16 electoral votes to his re-election,” she said.

On Thursday, about 500 people gathered in Cobo Hall in Detroit to support Trump’s border wall in an event headlined by his former senior adviser, Steve Bannon.

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Susan J. Demas is an 18-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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