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Whitmer "first" to jump into Michigan's 2018 race for Governor

The new president, Congress and state Legislature still haven’t been sworn in but Campaign 2018 is already underway.

Former state Senator Gretchen Whitmer is the “first” candidate to launch a 2018 campaign for governor of Michigan. Whitmer is a Democrat who spent more than a dozen years in the state Legislature before being term-limited out in 2014.

“I think we can’t wait… we’ve got a lot of different issues and I think it’s really going to be important to get around the state to meet with people to make sure that the platform is - has been - robustly debated and that we engage with people all across the state and I’m excited,” Whitmer told It’s Just Politics.

There was lots of breathless coverage about Whitmer being the first to throw her hat in the ring. And that led some to say it’s just too soon to start the campaign for 2018 when we’re barely past Election 2016.

But, it’s not as simple as that.

Whitmer arguably needed to jump into the race in order to be able to do the things that other candidates - who haven’t announced yet - are already doing. Whitmer announced now because she is lacking something that many others aren’t: a campaign committee.

It’s no secret in Michigan political circles that Congressman Dan Kildee on the Democratic side, and, on the Republican side, state Attorney General Bill Schuette and Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley are eyeing the race to be the one to replace Governor Rick Snyder once he’s retired by term limits.

Kildee, Schuette, and Calley already have campaign committees and are running with bank accounts of more than half a million dollars. Whitmer dissolved hers when she left office.

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State law says if you are fundraising, collecting checks, and spending money, you’d better have a campaign committee. So, Whitmer needs a campaign committee if she’s going to start building a war chest, and she can’t wait if others are already out there collecting donations (even if it’s under the guise of their current offices).

As current officeholders, Kildee, Schuette, and Calley also have platforms to engage in making their positions known on the issues of the day.  Whitmer doesn’t have much of a reason to be listened to or heard except as a private citizen with some political experience.

As an announced candidate, Whitmer now becomes one of the “usual suspects” who are rounded up and questioned by the media and others on current political issues and controversies.

It’s an irony: Whitmer had to be “first” in the race in order to keep up with the people who are already in.

So, saying Whitmer is “first” in the field is a literal truth that is also misleading. 

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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