Whitmer tries to pull in progressives with Gilchrist pick

Aug 20, 2018 at 12:15 pm
click to enlarge Gretchen Whitmer and running mate, Garlin Gilchrist II. - via Twitter user @jonathanoosting
via Twitter user @jonathanoosting
Gretchen Whitmer and running mate, Garlin Gilchrist II.

As expected, Democratic gubernatorial candidate and East Lansing resident Gretchen Whitmer has tapped a black Detroiter as her running mate as she tries to shore up support among Democrats and minorities in southeast Michigan. But in selecting Garlin Gilchrist II over the better known, more popular people on her shortlist (think Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon), she appears to be aiming to ensure that the progressive Democrats who voted against her in the primary come out for her on Nov. 6.

Political prognosticators have said getting progressives behind her candidacy will be key for Whitmer as she heads into the general election, after opponents Abdul El-Sayed and Shri Thanedar painted her as bought-off by corporations like Blue Cross Blue Shield. The hope is to avoid a Bernie vs. Hillary scenario, in which 12 percent of Bernie supporters went on to vote for Donald Trump, and fewer did not vote at all. Abdul El-Sayed, the progressive in the three-way Democratic primary, pulled in 30 percent of the vote on Aug. 7. Whitmer won with 52 percent.

The 35-year-old Gilchrist is said to be a "favorite" among progressives. The Bernie Sanders outgrowth organization, Our Revolution, supported his bid for Detroit clerk last year, in which he campaigned on bringing transparency and accountability to the office and ensuring maximal voter turnout. Gilchrist lost that election, against incumbent Janice Winfrey, by a razor-thin margin.

Born and raised in Detroit, Gilchrist flew the coop for the University of Michigan, and later, Washington D.C., where he built a career at the intersection of politics and the internet. He helped run social media for Obama's 2008 presidential campaign and worked for MoveOn.org. Eventually, he returned to Detroit, where he served as Mayor Mike Duggan's director of innovation and emerging technology after the mayor took office in 2014.

Whitmer also was likely motivated to select Gilchrist because of where he lives. Outstate Democratic candidates for governor routinely pick metro Detroiters as their running mates in hopes it will help them pick up Democrats in the state's most densely populated and left-leaning counties. In Michigan's last two gubernatorial elections, however, that strategy proved unsuccessful.

It's unclear, however, just how big of a help Gilchrist will be in getting Detroiters out for Whitmer specifically, because many of them don't know who he is, nor do they care who Our Revolution endorsed. Democrat gubernatorial primary candidate Thanedar, who was backed by no one of significance, still won the city in the Aug. 7 primary. Also, Gilchrist came close to taking the Detroit City Clerk spot during an off-year election, when only 1 in 5 of the city's registered voters turned out. In all, he picked up 48,000 votes.

Still, Gilchrist brings diversity to a ballot in which white women occupy all of the top Democratic spots. Gretchen Whitmer is the party nominee for governor, Dana Nessel is the unofficial pick for Attorney General, and Jocelyn Benson is the unofficial pick for Secretary of State.

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