Gretchen Esther WHITMER was elected Michigan’s 49th governor this evening, putting a successful end to a campaign that lasted 672 days, Michigan’s longest in gubernatorial history.
See the final results here.MIRS called the race at 9:10 p.m. after numerous precincts in traditional Republican areas in Oakland, Kent and counties showed Whitmer with a lead over Attorney General Bill SCHUETTE. The Attorney General is underperforming in traditional Republican areas like Livingston County and Grand Traverse County. With about 90 percent of precints reporting, Whitmer had beaten Schuette 53 to 44 percent.
The former Senate Minority Leader is cruising past Schuette in the traditional Democratic areas of Wayne, Washtenaw and Ingham counties.
“At a time when we see too many people trying to divide us through building walls, I think we in Michigan need to get back to building bridges,” said Whitmer in declaring victory at around 11 p.m., as quoted by The Detroit News.
Schuette called Whitmer to congratulate her at about 10:30 p.m. According to The Detroit Free Press, he conceded that he was running in a “difficult climate” and the experience was an “incredible honor.”
“I had a terrific victory speech in my other pocket, but I’ll save that for another occasion,” he said.
With Whitmer’s win, former Detroit city official Garlin GILCHRIST II of Detroit becomes the state’s first African-American lieutenant governor. The pair will be sworn in at noon Jan. 1, 2019 to succeed Gov. Rick SNYDER and Lt. Gov. Brian CALLEY.
The former interim Ingham County prosecutor struck a chord with drivers upset about damaging their automobiles on Michigan’s moonscape-like roads and Republicans’ inability to more immediately and substantially repave them after the 2015 roads package.
While “fix the damn roads,” became her motto, she used her involvement in passing Medicaid expansion with Gov. Rick SNYDER to boast her bi-partisan bonafides and her leadership against the 2012 Right to Work law to fire up the Democratic base.
Whitmer, 47, started her campaign Jan. 3, 2017, but received her first big push the day after President Donald TRUMP‘s inauguration on Jan. 21, when she addressed 10,000 Women’s March protestors on the Capitol lawn (See “Saturday’s Capitol March Doubles Expectations,” 1/23/17).
From that point, Whitmer rode the “pink wave” national movement of women becoming politically activated at never-before-seen levels. One by one, would-be top-tier Democratic challengers opted against a run — U.S. Rep. Dan KILDEE, University of Michigan Regent Mark BERNSTEIN, attorney Geoffrey FIEGER, Detroit Mayor Mike DUGGAN and now-U.S. Rep.-elect Andy LEVIN being the most prominent.
Instead, she drew former Detroit Public Health Director Abdul EL-SAYED and self-made millionaire Shri THANEDAR. El-Sayed rallied the state’s progressive Bernie SANDERS crowd to develop a campaign that started in obscurity to one that received 30 percent of the primary vote. Thanedar threw $10 million of his personal wealth into some of the year’s most clever, self-depreciating commercials, but his lack of policy depth and poor performances in public appearances left him with 18 percent of the primary vote.
For the general, Whitmer drew Schuette, likely the most experienced public official to ever run for governor. However, every publicly released poll on the race never showed her trailing. From mid-2017 to the present, Whitmer’s lead ranged from 14 to 5 percentage points.
The former member of Congress, state senator, appellate judge and state senator used his familiar name and the power of inevitability to coast through a messy Republican primary. But the support of Trump, which was his biggest asset in the primary, cost him dearly among a general election population that, by and large, aren’t enamored of the chief executive.
Unlike prior gubernatorial matchups, Whitmer consistently raised more money than the Republican. Her $12 million raised for the cycle was more than any non-incumbent Democratic gubernatorial candidate in history. Schuette raised $8.1 million during his campaign (See “Whitmer Beats Schuette In Fundraising, Spending, Cash-On-Hand,” 10/26/18). Schuette ended up running low on cash in the campaign’s final week, causing him to cancel half of his statewide ad buy a week before the election.
Whitmer also outshined Schuette, 68, on the debate stage, particularly in the final WDIV showdown, where Schuette stumbled through about five or six talking points.
“The Attorney General has the same talking points for every question. You forgot to use the word ‘extreme’ in that one, Bill,” Whitmer said at one point.
At one point, he nearly referred to Whitmer as former Gov. Jennifer GRANHOLM as he attempted to, again, compare one to the other (See “Schuette Almost Calls Whitmer ‘Granholm’ In Debate,” 10/24/18).
Perhaps Schuette’s biggest struggle was energizing Republican or independent voters with any new ideas while Whitmer outflanked the Attorney General on roads and health care, the campaign’s two biggest issues.
His vague plan to fix the roads was a dead end and his pledge to end “the Granholm tax income tax increase” never resonated as an issue that demanded immediate action.