Democrats have chosen Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer to deliver the response to Donald Trump’s third State of the Union, elevating a fresh face into the national spotlight just months away from election day this fall.
Ms Whitmer, 48, serves to highlight the importance the Democratic Party has placed on midwest swing states that delivered Mr Trump’s surprise election victory in 2016 — including in Michigan, one of a handful of Hillary Clinton’s so-called firewall states that Mr Trump won by less than 1 per cent of the vote.
The choice also highlights the importance of women voters to the party, who helped to hand control of the House of Representatives to Democrats in an historic blue wave that saw Ms Whitmer’s election in 2018. Those results placed a historic number of women in Congress, too, surpassing the previous record of 107 voting members with 118.
Ms Whitmer isn’t the only woman to step up to the podium to contradict Mr Trump, and comes after Stacey Abrams did so last year. Ms Abrams came up just short of winning the Georgia governor’s office just months before her 2019 rebuttal, though she notably declined to concede the race citing concerns around the integrity of the vote.
Before Ms Abrams, congressman Joe Kennedy III delivered the rebuttal in 2018, a precursor to his ongoing Senate bid in Massachusetts.
Ms Whitmer’s election in 2018 was seen by many in the Democratic Party as a test run to determine whether Michigan, which had not been won by a Republican for nearly three decades when Mr Trump came along in 2016, could be won again by a Democrat in 2020.
She ultimately defeated her Republican challenger by 10 points, marking one of the most expensive campaigns in Michigan history. That opponent, Bill Schuette, had largely portrayed himself as in the mould of the president, and touted Mr Trump’s support on the campaign trail.
For her part, Ms Whitmer ran a campaign focused on political pragmatism and issues like rebuilding roads or strengthening schools.