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United States

The AP Interview: Whitmer has ‘no interest in going to DC’

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Fresh off a commanding reelection victory in one of the nation’s premier swing states, Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says she will remain focused on her post and not growing speculation she could mount a future presidential run.

In an interview with The Associated Press just over a week after winning a second term, Whitmer insisted she’s “never had interest in going to D.C.” and said she’ll “be here for four more years.”

Whitmer didn’t explicitly rule out running for president at some point in the future. She’s also planning to travel to Washington in coming weeks to discuss her state’s priorities. But the governor also said of trying to tamp down questions about whether she will mount a 2024 bid, “It’s just a practical decision. I just won reelection. This is the job that I want.”

“My whole focus is on the state of Michigan,” Whitmer said Thursday.

A rising star in her party, the 51-year-old Whitmer has proven she can win tough races in one of the states that’s been among the most decisive in deciding the presidency since 2016. Whitmer has been frequently mentioned as a future White House candidate, especially if President Joe Biden opts not to seek a second term.

The governor said she’d been approached in the past about running for Congress, or other federal offices, but said “anyone whose familiar with my career” knows that “I’ve never been interested in going to DC. I love state government.”

Biden turns 80 on Sunday and has said he plans to run for reelection, though he has not yet formally announced a bid. Former President Donald Trump kicked off his third campaign for the White House with a speech at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida on Tuesday.

Michigan has had “an outsized role in national elections and a voice and I think that’s a good thing,” Whitmer said. She didn’t watch Trump’s announcement, and while Biden called her after the election, he simply congratulated her briefly and didn’t touch on other topics, Whitmer said.

“What I have said is, President Biden says he’s going to run again. If he runs again, he’s got my support,” she said. “That’s it.”

Whitmer beat Republican Tudor Dixon, who had been endorsed by Trump, by a comfortable 11 points in last week’s midterm election. Biden only won the state by about 3 percentage points two years ago.

Michigan voters also approved a referendum amending the state constitution to protect abortion rights after the Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

Democrats won majorities in both chambers of Michigan Legislature, giving the party full control of the body for the first time since 1984. Whitmer said she’d work with state lawmakers to codify same-sex marriage rights statewide, and to fully rescind a 1931 law banning abortion that the midterm referendum sought to invalidate.

“We need to clean old laws off the books,” she said, adding of the 1931 law, “It doesn’t have effect right now. But we don’t want it to ever threaten to come back alive.”

Whitmer called Michigan a safe haven for abortion and said patients have been coming to have the procedure from neighboring red states, including Ohio and Indiana. The governor said her state’s defense of abortion rights could even attract new residents. That’s especially important after Michigan lost a congressional seat this cycle because its population, while growing, did not keep pace with other booming places.

“There are a lot of businesses in states that are anti-choice — that have extreme laws on the books — that have vowed not to continue to invest there. They should move to Michigan,” Whitmer said. “As should every young person who’s graduated from school.”

Four people accused of conspiring to kidnap Whitmer in 2020 — when she became a national face of restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus — pleaded guilty or were convicted by a federal jury. Three others connected to the scheme were convicted in state court in October.

Whitmer said the threat against her was downplayed relative to the arrested last summer of someone near Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s home and “perhaps gender plays into that.”

The suspect in that case “turned himself in and it was covered as an assassination plot,” she said. “In Michigan, we had over a dozen people, training for months, staking out my cottage, running drills on how to shoot me. And it was covered as a kidnapping plot.”

“It’s striking when you think about how many people were involved, how many months it occurred and all the lengths to which they took to execute their plan, and how big it was treated,” Whitmer said. “Is it ‘cause I’m a woman? Is it ’cause I’m a Democrat? I don’t know. But it’s different and it’s not right.”

During the midterm race, Dixon had championed Trump’s lies about the 2020 presidential election being marred by widespread fraud that did not occur.

Whitmer noted Thursday that Dixon called her to concede after the election, which was “important” and “gracious of her.” But she also said some Republican lawmakers had attended the same kind of rallies protesting the 2020 election results and COVID restrictions that those involved in her kidnapping plot did.

Some Republicans have promoted similar ideals to those “being prosecuted for trying to kill me,” Whitmer said. “And yet I’ve still got to get a budget done. I’ve still got to negotiate. So there’s no room for my feelings to get involved.”

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Weissert reported from Washington.

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Joey Cappelletti is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

Joey Cappelletti And Will Weissert, The Associated Press