Who is Gretchen Whitmer? Michigan governor tapped by Dems for State of the Union response

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has been tapped by Democratic leaders to deliver the party’s response to President Trump's State of the Union address -- a move that highlights both Whitmer’s rise within the party and the importance Democrats have put on winning Michigan come November’s general election.

Whitmer became the Wolverine state’s governor after defeating GOP nominee Bill Schuette in the 2018 midterm elections to replace Republican Gov. Rick Synder, who was term limited. Her win was seen as a major coup for Democrats after Trump became the first Republican since George H.W. Bush to carry the state in the 2016 election.

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Whitmer is a former prosecutor who had previously served as Democratic leader in the Michigan state Senate and was the first woman to lead the Senate caucus.

FILE - In this Dec. 18, 2019, file photo, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at the Capitol in Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/David Eggert, File)

FILE - In this Dec. 18, 2019, file photo, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at the Capitol in Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/David Eggert, File)

Despite facing a tough gubernatorial election battle – where her Republican rivals painted her advocating for abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement in a claim she disputed – Whitmer won the race by nearly a 10 point margin over Schuette as part of a swing to the Democrats in Michigan in 2018.

Whitmer’s campaign focused on improving Michigan’s schools and crumbling infrastructure, including making drinking water safer. This point drew praise from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., when they announced that she would offer the Democrats’ rebuttal to Trump.

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Michigan is still dealing with the aftermath of the 2014 water crisis in Flint. About 25,000 people have sued over the crisis, in which a change in the source of the city's water resulted in lead contamination.

Whitmer will give her response to Trump’s address almost immediately after the president finishes talking. Trump is scheduled to give his speech at 9 p.m. ET on Feb. 4.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.