Opinion

In governor’s race, Whitmer communicates on her time, in her way, to her people

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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer broke a 57-year tradition of governors’ leading the Mackinac Bridge walk this past Labor Day, opting to attend a sparsely attended union gathering in Detroit instead. 

Unless you're a history lover, Whitmer’s sending Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II to Mackinaw City may not mean a heck of a lot.  

Whitmer's Republican opponent, Tudor Dixon, got more than 700 likes on Twitter for this jab: "Honored to join this year's Bridge Walk. It's a shame Gretchen bailed on her last one as Governor!" 

Security wasn't the stated reason for Whitmer's non-appearance. "There are many great events across the state that recognize the contributions of hard-working men and women on Labor Day," said her communications director, Bobby Leddy. 

That's true … just not one that draws 26,000 people.  

Whitmer posted pictures from her yet-to-be announced event. I counted about 26 people among the three pictures she posted. 

Twenty years ago, such a move would be seen as political stupidity. Today … .  

The no-show speaks to a deeper reality about running a gubernatorial election campaign in 2022. Whitmer didn't show up to the bridge walk because she doesn't have to. The political risk is officially greater than the reward. 

Blessing flesh in the comfort of a controlled environment works better than being among a throng where anything can happen: An uncomfortable question. A confrontation with an angry trades union worker about Whitmer gumming up the Line 5 tunnel project. A viral meme of strong winds blowing her hair over her face, whatever. 

The world is waaaaaayyy different from 16 years ago, when then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm turned walking over the bridge into a five-mile jog. A majority get their news and information from their phones and social media. 

A candidate missing the 6 p.m. or 10 p.m. local news doesn't mean as much because … well  … . who even watches local network television anymore, let alone the nightly news? Is her showing up or not showing up going to sway a single vote? 

A news story that previously took up 600 words in a newspaper or 90 seconds in a local news report is now a two-second glance on Instagram. 

"Oh, Whitmer was with union people on Labor Day. Cool" is the perceived sentiment from social media scrollers. 

For that vanishing minority who didn't see Whitmer on the Mackinac Bridge on Labor Day, you can bet they will see their fair share of pro-Whitmer/anti-Dixon ads pop up before their AV ballots show up. 

Whitmer has 26 times the cash on hand as Tudor Dixon. Between her and the Democratic Governors Association, people will see plenty of pro-Whitmer/anti-Dixon ads. The Republican's own family may shift to the undecided category. 

Today's voters are hopelessly polarized. Elections in our 50/50 state are less about persuading people to lean a certain way. It's about turning out the persuaded to actually vote. Look at the polls: 90% of voters say they have already made up the minds on this election. 

If you don't have an opinion on Whitmer by this point, is the boilerplate story about Whitmer leading walkers over the Mighty Mac going to change a thing? 

It's the same thing with debates. Whitmer told Dixon that she'll debate her on Oct. 13 and Oct. 25. Period. If Dixon doesn't like it that these dates are after absentee ballots come out, the Whitmer HQ philosophy is "tough rocks." If Dixon is a no-show, she's the one who looks like she ran away from them. 

Meanwhile the governor is communicating on her time, her way, to her people. 

In the 67 days since the Dobbs decision overturned Roe v. Wade, Whitmer has tweeted about supporting productive freedom 145 times on social media. Yes, we actually counted. 

How many times was it that “Charlie's Angels” pose Whitmer struck with Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson? 

We didn't count that, but you get the picture. 

(Email Kyle Melinn of the Capitol newsletter MIRS at melinnky@gmail.com.) 

whitmer, governor, mackinac, tradition

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