Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) was scheduled to participate in door knocking Saturday for former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) but changed her plans following a barrage of criticism from Republicans for leaving Michigan while one of its cities is grappling with water contamination.
Whitmer planned to knock on doors in Arlington County, Virginia, on behalf of McAuliffe — who is running in a contentious bellwether gubernatorial race happening November 2 — while the small city of Benton Harbor, Michigan, is in the midst of a lead water crisis.
— Arlington Democrats (@arlingtondems) October 22, 2021
Whitmer, who herself is running for reelection next year in a battleground race, became a target for criticism from conservative groups after news surfaced of her plans to head to the Old Dominion.
Michigan Rising Action’s executive director, Eric Ventimiglia, said of Whitmer’s trip, “While volunteers in Benton Harbor are going door to door delivering water to vulnerable residents in need, Gretchen Whitmer is going door to door in Virginia supporting racist, anti-parent Democratic candidates,” adding Whitmer was “once again putting politics and her national profile first and abandoning Michiganders when they need her leadership most.”
The Republican Governors Association (RGA) also harped on Whitmer for the planned campaign activity. RGA spokesperson Chris Gustafson said, “By fleeing to Virginia amid a water crisis her administration tried to conceal, it’s clear that Whitmer cares more about electing Democrats than providing Michiganders with clean drinking water.”
Benton Harbor began making headlines in September after several organizations filed a petition with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) demanding emergency action be taken to supply the city with safe drinking water.
The petition stated that Benton Harbor, which has a population of about 10,000, had been neglected by community officials as it dealt with lead levels in its water system well above federal standards for three years.
Since the petition, Whitmer has sprung into action, signing a directive to replace all of the city’s lead service lines and visiting Benton this past week to meet with its leaders about next steps.
The Michigan Democrat said she is aiming to “pursue an all-hands-on-deck approach to protect access to safe drinking water right now and make lasting investments in water infrastructure.”
The Michigan Republican Party blasted Whitmer on Friday after learning of her intentions to participate in the McAuliffe campaign event:
There’s a crisis going on in Michigan.
People literally don’t have access to clean and safe water but she has time to campaign for @TerryMcAuliffe?
Dereliction of duty. https://t.co/etUPrvbkZl
— Gustavo Portela (@gusportela) October 22, 2021
Whitmer campaign Communications Director Maeve Coyle said, according to the Detroit News, that the door knocking event for McAuliffe had been tentative.
Coyle said, “She had a schedule change and was unable to attend.”
The outlet noted that Whitmer’s office had previously said the governor was in D.C. on Friday, having “high-level conversations with key decision-makers” about her state.
Write to Ashley Oliver at [email protected].