Gretchen Whitmer’s Rules

5 mins read

Here are some NEW RULES. These are Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s rules.

Forget the rules you thought applied to how women need to campaign to win. Gretchen Whitmer’s recent win has blown those rules away. Michigan is the only state that has had a woman as the senior U.S. senator (Debbie Stabenow) at the same time the majority of statewide, executive constitutional offices are held by women (three of four, and the fourth is held by a Black man).

In last Tuesday’s election, once all was said, done, and tabulated, all three of these women — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel, and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson — easily won second terms. And they carried with them to victory a pro-choice Democratic majority in both houses of the state legislature. 

Here are the lessons I take from these victories, so vividly evidenced in Gov. Whitmer’s campaign strategy:

  • Gretchen Whitmer Rule #1: Running as an avowedly pro-choice candidate is a winning strategy.

This belief was put front and center throughout Whitmer’s campaign. In my popular guidebook for women candidates, Every Day is Election Day, I expressed the thinking behind this strategy: Women candidates win when they stand with and for women, and there is no evidence of being with and for women more significant than an avowed commitment to women’s reproductive rights and autonomy. For absent that, no female autonomy is possible.

  • Gretchen Whitmer Rule #2: Never mollify bad people; go toward any fight with them. 

Check out Whitmer’s reactions when she faced kidnapping threats and attempts to overthrow the state government. When the would-be kidnappers went to trial, her office stated: “The plot to kidnap and kill a governor may seem like an anomaly. But we must be honest about what it really is: the result of violent, divisive rhetoric that is all too common across our country. There must be accountability and consequences for those who commit heinous crimes. Without accountability, extremists will be emboldened.” No fear here about stating the bald truth.

  • Gretchen Whitmer Rule #3: there must be an unrelenting focus on the needs of everyday people. 

“Across Michigan we are moving dirt and fixing the damn roads …,” stated Whitmer in October 2022. After Whitmer’s reelection, Sen. Debbie Stanbenow pointed out, “When you run on saying you’re going to fix the damn roads, then you better fix the roads. And [now] we’ve got more orange cones than any other state.”

Consider other pertinent particulars of Whitmer’s campaign platform. While advocating the right to abortion, she also committed financial resources to helping working families make it through difficult times. By allying with the criminal justice system, the governor ensured that abusers are punished. And through her work with law enforcement and civil rights advocates, she made the case that people can work together so that no one’s rights or opportunities are trampled on.

  • Gretchen Whitmer Rule #4: There are no “left” or “right” issues; there are only policies that help all families lead better lives. In sum: there is more that unites us than divides us.

Like many other states, Michigan’s population is a mix of races and ethnicities, of rich, poor and in-between, of an agricultural and an industrial economy. Its big cities have large Black populations while its rural areas are predominantly white. Yet Whitmer won every single county, all 83 of them, from Keweenaw, population 2,107, to Wayne (Detroit), population 1.8 million. Families everywhere and of every sort understood the truth that Whitmer asserted: There is no left nor right: there is only what’s best for all, and that will be enough for all to lead healthy and secure lives.

Take heed. On to Georgia!

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Rebecca Sive is the author of three books on women’s politics and power; a motivational speaker; a former professor at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago as well as statewide governmental official; and the recipient of numerous awards for her public leadership and service. She co-produced and co-hosted the widely praised podcast, #VoteHerIn, aired as part of the Demcast network. Learn more about her here:, and feel free to contact her here,, about speaking engagements, writing, and her strategic counsel to women public leaders.

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