LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — “that woman from Michigan” — touted Joe Biden's work to rescue the auto industry and said he would rally the country to fight the coronavirus and not deny it like President Donald Trump has.
The first-term battleground governor, who a week ago was a finalist to be Biden's running mate, spoke on the opening night of Democrats' virtual nominating convention Monday. She addressed a national audience from a United Auto Workers hall whose members make Chevrolet Camaros and Cadillac sedans in Lansing.
Whitmer reminded viewers of the country's last economic crisis — the Great Recession — and credited Biden, then the vice president, for joining with President Barack Obama to save the auto sector with a federal bailout. Those workers, she said, have helped more than a decade later to make protective equipment for doctors and nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Over the past few months, we learned what's essential — rising to the challenge, not denying it. We've learned who is essential, too,” the governor said, "not the just the wealthiest among us. Not a president who fights his fellow Americans rather than fight the virus that's killing us and our economy. It's the people who put their own health at risk to care for the rest of us.”
Michigan was hit hard by the coronavirus in the spring but, after the governor imposed a strict stay-at-home order, has ranked in the bottom 10 states for new cases per capita this summer. In her four-minute speech, she continued to criticize the Trump administration for its lack of a “national strategy” to combat COVID-19, saying everyone who needs a test should get one for free and kids and educators should have adequate funding to safely return to school.
Biden and his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, “will lead by example,” Whitmer said. “Science, not politics or ego, will drive their decisions. They know the health of our people goes hand in hand with the strength of our economy.”
Her critique of Trump's handling of the outbreak led him in March to say that he had told Vice President Donald Trump to not call “the woman in Michigan.” Whitmer has embraced the dismissive phrase. She introduced herself to viewers as the governor and “that woman from Michigan.”
In a pre-speech interview with The Associated Press, Whitmer said Biden's message will resonate in Michigan because he and Obama “had our backs when many others didn't. ... We know him, and he knows us.” Biden and Democrats will put a heavy focus on the auto recovery in the fall presidential race, she said.
She stopped short of saying Hillary Clinton missed an opportunity to highlight the issue in 2016, saying a lot of factors contributed to lower Democratic turnout in a state Trump won by roughly two-tenths of a percentage point.
“At the end of the day, in this moment, this candidate has a special relationship with the state. He's going to focus on it, and that's why I want to focus on it tonight, too,” Whitmer said.
Asked if there is a risk in highlighting the bailout that began nearly a dozen years ago and is not fresh on voters' minds, she said the public needs “hope” as economic strife has grown because the U.S. never controlled the virus. “It is an example and a part of our history that will give people hope we will get through this with the right person at the helm,” she said.
Whitmer concluded her address by honoring Skylar Herbert, a 5-year-old girl who died in April of complications from COVID-19. She said in the interview that people are spreading misinformation about whether kids can be infected.
“To be a child of two public servants who put their health at risk to take care of other people I think is just a heart-wrenching example of the toll that COVID-19 has taken on the United States," Whitmer said.
The Michigan Republican Party and Trump's campaign criticized her handling of the pandemic, alleging that a “failed” nursing home policy has led to deaths. Party chair Laura Cox said Whitmer's “partisan colors were on full display tonight," and “she continues to pass the buck and blame others.”
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