Democrats tapped Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) to deliver their party’s State of the Union rebuttal Tuesday night. In 2016, Michigan was an important state and led President Trump to victory. After two years in the Oval Office, Trump and the GOP became unpopular among Michiganders, which paved the way for Whitmer in 2018.
Whitmer was the first female leader of the Democrat caucus in Michigan’s state Senate and a former prosecutor. In the lead-up to the 2018 gubernatorial election, Whitmer’s electability was strong. She embraced “dinner table issues” and was portrayed in the media as the “moderate” choice on the ballot in comparison to Republican Bill Schuette.
However, Whitmer quickly became an unpopular governor with 45 percent of Michiganders saying they disapprove of her job performance and another 2 percent saying they were undecided, compared to 43 percent who approved of her performance.
Whitmer’s unpopularity took a deep dive on October 1, when she vetoed $1.47 million in grants for autism programs. Whitmer has also been unable to work with Michigan’s Republican-led House and Senate. For a candidate who was considered “moderate,” Whitmer’s decisions are far from it.
Whitmer also proposed a hike for the state’s gas tax by 45 cents after promising during her campaign she would not. Other unpopular moves she’s made include “an executive directive intended to make 200,000 more workers eligible for overtime pay, angering large sectors of the business community, went to court to try to stop a crude oil pipeline plan through the Straits of Mackinac approved under her predecessor, and in a move that has been temporarily frozen by judges, used emergency administrative rules to try to ban the sale of flavored vaping products as a public health measure.”
Picking Whitmer to give the State of Union rebuttal was motivated in part by her position in a swing state. Trump won Michigan in 2016 by 47.3 percent, to Hillary Clinton’s 47 percent. Picking Whitmer is Democrats’ opportunity to win back voters who may have left the Obama coalition for Trump.
During the Trump administration, Democrats previously chose Rep. Joe Kennedy of Massacchussetts and failed Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams to deliver the 2018 and 2019 State of the Union responses.