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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer remains on Biden's list as running mate pick nears

The Michigan governor has been on Biden's list of potential running mates all along, Democrats close to the process say.
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In a photo provided by the Michigan Office of the Governor, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addresses the state during a speech in Lansing, Mich., on Aug. 5, 2020.Michigan Office of the Governor via AP

As Joe Biden appears set to begin holding final one-on-one conversations with potential running mates, sources close to the process tell NBC News that Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is among those still under serious consideration.

In recent weeks, public speculation about Biden’s narrowing short list had centered largely on a quartet of African American women — Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., former national security adviser Susan Rice and Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla. — with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., also still in the running.

Democrats with knowledge of the process tell NBC News Whitmer did not just re-emerge as a potential vice presidential pick, but had long remained in the top tier for the only person with a vote in the process: Biden himself.

Top labor leaders in Whitmer’s battleground state tell NBC News that the Biden campaign has reached out to the state chapters of the UAW, AFL-CIO and Teamsters to sound them out about Whitmer. That outreach began as early as January ahead of the Iowa caucuses, but intensified lately as the vetting process advanced.

“I think what the national team recognizes is that it’s awfully hard for a Democrat to become president if they can’t carry Michigan,” said state Rep. Brian Elder, chair of the Michigan Legislative Labor Caucus.

Whitmer brings obvious strengths to the table beyond her popularity in a key battleground state. Senior Biden campaign officials have made clear again in recent days that they believe the COVID-19 pandemic combined with President Donald Trump’s management of the crisis and the resulting economic fallout is the central issue of the fall campaign. Whitmer has earned the respect of Biden officials for her steady hand during the crisis, at times in the face of strong opposition.

"Governor, I've paid close attention to your leadership in Michigan from the time you got elected, while you were campaigning, and particularly this past week,” Biden told Whitmer when he interviewed her in April — publicly, on his “Here’s The Deal” podcast.

“What's impressed me is both that how impressive and important your leadership has been," he said. "You're just doing an incredible job. The people in Michigan should be so proud of having you. And, you know, and you're respected by all the other governors — I talked to governors from the East Coast to the West Coast. I'm on the phone with them all the time.”

The Biden campaign continues to navigate intense lobbying efforts about the choice, including the view of many that he should choose a woman of color.

Whitmer, notably, held a press conference Wednesday to announce a pair of executive orders focused on racial justice, including a “first of its kind” advisory council to address racism within state government, and one recognizing racism as a public health crisis. She was joined in the announcement by Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, who, if Whitmer were to become vice president, would become Michigan’s first, and the nation’s only Black governor.

The Biden campaign has also long viewed the recipe for success for the party in the 2018 midterms as their blueprint in 2020 — particularly significant turnout for Democratic candidates among women voters in suburban, swing districts. Whitmer was one of those successful candidates as she won her seat by nearly 10 points. Biden campaigned with her that September. She returned the favor in the presidential race, endorsing him in March ahead of her state’s key primary and becoming a national campaign co-chair.