Democrat Gretchen Whitmer has defeated her Republican opponent Bill Schuette to become the next governor of Michigan.
The former minority leader of the state Senate, Whitmer ran a campaign focused on competence and brass tacks, emphasizing clean water and promising to “fix the damn roads.” But she was also an outspoken critic of the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and a supporter of the #MeToo movement.
At the top of a Democratic ticket that included female candidates for all statewide races, Whitmer also exemplified a new approach by women running for office. In the era of #MeToo, experts say, women around the country are making their personal experiences — which are inextricably tied to their gender — a bigger part of their campaigns. Candidates are sending the message that “gender is among the value-added pieces of me that I bring” to the table, Kelly Dittmar, a political science professor at Rutgers University, said in October.
Whitmer’s win shows the approach can work in Michigan, a state Hillary Clinton lost in both the primary and the general election in 2016. After President Trump was elected, pundits implied that Democrats might need to replicate his macho attitude to appeal to working-class white men in the state. But for Whitmer, she told me in October, “It’s not about macho, it’s about getting things done.”
As governor, Whitmer has promised clean water, better roads, and protection for abortion rights
In Michigan’s primary earlier this year, Whitmer faced two challengers, Abdul El-Sayed and Shri Thanedar. As Vox’s Ella Nilsen reported over the summer, some supporters of El-Sayed sought to portray Whitmer as a centrist, establishment candidate, but others said the label never really fit. “I covered her time in the legislature, and she was one of the most progressive Democrats that I covered,” Michigan Democratic strategist Susan Demas, a former state reporter, told Nilsen.
Ultimately, Whitmer won the primary handily, with 52 percent of the vote to El-Sayed’s 30 percent (Thanedar took about 18 percent). Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who had endorsed El-Sayed, ultimately threw his support behind Whitmer in the general election.
Whitmer had enjoyed a comfortable lead in polls heading into Election Day. Schuette, her Republican opponent and the state attorney general, struggled to win over voters because of his association with outgoing Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who was highly unpopular in the wake of the Flint water crisis. Schuette was endorsed by President Trump, who is also unpopular with Michigan voters.
As governor, Whitmer has promised not just to clean up the state’s water, now facing a second potential contamination crisis, and to fix those damn roads, but also to protect abortion rights for Michiganders. Now that Kavanaugh sits on the Supreme Court, a rollback of Roe v. Wade is a distinct possibility.
If that happens, a pre-Roe ban on abortion still on the books in Michigan could be enforced to ban the procedure across the state. As governor, Whitmer has said she will work to get the ban repealed.
Whitmer is a longtime advocate of reproductive rights who first gained national attention in 2013, when she opened up about her own sexual assault in a speech opposing a Michigan bill that required women to purchase a special rider if they wanted insurance coverage for abortion, even in the case of rape. The bill passed anyway, but, she told Vox in October, “I added my voice to a conversation that was long overdue.”